BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS | What is it about the British and The Country Club? Here is Matthew Fitzpatrick, 27 years old, 5 feet, 10 inches if he stands up straight, one who is not afraid to wear braces on his teeth, once considered a short hitter whose last round in the 122nd Open was one of the greatest ball-striking demonstrations of recent years. With his quick swing and his business-like manner, he hit 17 greens in regulation and then faced a difficult shot from a bunker to the left of the 72nd fairway.
Leading by one stroke at that point, Fitzpatrick appeared to have made a grievous error on a day when he and Billy Foster, his veteran British caddie, had made very few. Together they selected a 3-wood for accuracy and yet the ball ended in sand. Paul Azinger called it a great mistake in his television commentary.
Fitzpatrick might not have been thinking of Sandy Lyle’s bunker shot at Augusta to set up victory in the 1988 Masters or even the amateur Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones’ mashie stroke from a sandy lie on the 17th that won him the 1926 Open Championship. No matter. A brisk descent into what could have been a sandy pit of despond, a couple of waggles and then he struck his ball to within a few yards of the flagstick.
If one shot can be said to have won a major championship, this was it. “It was one of the best shots I ever hit,” Fitzpatrick said. “Going for it was ballsy,” said Will Zalatoris, who at that moment was one stroke behind Fitzpatrick. “The fact that he pulled it off, all credit to him.”
What is it about Europeans and The Country Club in Boston? It is less to do with the Tea Party in another century and blessed memory and more to do with the 1999 Ryder Cup when Europe led 10-6 after two days and then was overwhelmed by an American revival on the third.
And was destiny playing its part in Fitzpatrick’s victory? Maybe. For the 2013 U.S. Amateur, Fitzpatrick stayed with a local family, the Fultons, had his younger brother, Alex, caddying for him, and their parents, Russell and Sue, were in the gallery watching proudly. Alex, though 13, did enough to support Matt to an historic victory. Last week, Fitzpatrick, his parents and brother stayed in the same house for a few nights with the Fultons and enjoyed a similar result: victory.
Fitzpatrick comes from Sheffield, a city in the north of England in the county of Yorkshire. Yorkshiremen are regarded as tough, blunt speakers who tell it as it is and are not afraid to show character. He grew up playing at the Hallamshire Golf Club in Sheffield. “It’s a bit like this one,” he said, the handsome U.S. Open trophy by his side. “Open, windy.” Sheffield, like Pittsburgh, is known for the steel it once produced in huge quantities. Some of the world’s best cutlery comes from there. One of its two soccer teams is nicknamed The Blades.
What is Fitzpatrick’s defining quality? He had no airs and graces. He is as proud of the hint of a Yorkshire accent in his speech as he is of his hometown. He does not talk loudly. He is grounded, sensible, calm and loyal to his roots. He loves The Blades and has hooked up his television at home in Florida to be able to watch their games. What he has and does is play golf with a determination that can be described only as steely.
Having Billy Foster as his caddie has helped Fitzpatrick. Foster had caddied for 40 years and in 14 Ryder Cups without a victory in a major championship, working for Seve Ballesteros, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke among others. Is he the best caddie in the world? Certainly one of the best. He, too, is a Yorkshireman: blunt-speaking, thoughtful and wise in golfing matters. The partnership of two Yorkshiremen, one nearly twice as old as the other, was made in heaven.
Fitzpatrick’s work ethic is renowned. “He has an obsession about golf,” former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley said. “Everything else in his life revolves around golf. He even went to bed early on the night of his stag party.” Justin Rose admires the team that Fitzpatrick has assembled to support him, at the way Fitzpatrick logs every stroke he plays and employs touring pro Edoardo Molinari to input the information.
Rose spoke of the way Fitzpatrick worked so hard to improve his swing speed by 10 or more mph to make himself no longer a short hitter. “Matt’s fearless,” said instructor Pete Cowen, who worked with Fitzpatrick for 15 years before handing him to associate Mike Walker. “He is like Graeme McDowell in that he is comfortable in uncomfortable situations. He is so solid. He had no weaknesses.”
Fitzpatrick is a model professional, one whom any aspiring pro should study and copy, as was countryman Luke Donald once.
His upbringing was not a country-club one. His parents got up in the middle of the night to drive one or the other boy – sometimes both – to tournaments hours away. To be called “good solid Yorkshiremen” is a term of praise in the UK. All of the Fitzpatricks are good, solid Yorkshire people.You didn’t need to be a soothsayer to predict that Fitzpatrick’s time in the winner’s circle would come very soon, though you might not have predicted it would come in a major championship. Even though his seven victories had all come on the DP World Tour, he had been trending on the PGA Tour for some time. Entering the U.S. Open, he had seven top-10 finishes in 2022.
He was in the last group at last month’s PGA Championship, but on that Sunday in Tulsa he appeared to be overshadowed by the demands of Southern Hills. He didn’t look comfortable when he was centre stage and did not play with the assurance of someone who believed he should have been in the last group.
The PGA was only one month ago, yet for Fitzpatrick and the way he played and the composure he showed at The Country Club it might as well have been light years ago. At Brookline, he was majestic, bestriding the stage, a proud Yorkshireman playing the golf of his life, with a proud Yorkshireman carrying his bag and walking alongside.
Matthew Fitzpatrick lines up a putt on the sixth green during the final round of the U.S. Open.