Some spectators thrive on the raucous sounds of a Ryder Cup; others, not so much. The game may be changing all the time, but up at St Andrews on the delayed final afternoon of last month’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, everyone seemed to be on the receiving end of a cheerful reminder of the days when golf, the family game, was to the fore.
True, there were LIV players in the field, but one way and another, it was a week when Matt Fitzpatrick’s family feats took over from all else.
Though Fitzpatrick, the 2022 U.S. Open champion, won the individual title for the first time, his sheer delight had more to do with how he and his 5-handicap mother, Susan, had captured the team trophy. He said that his mother had been “laughing and joking all year” about how they would win, and that he had revelled in playing his part in making that longed-for wish come to pass.
Fitzpatrick meant what he said when he added that their success was up there with his major in terms of being one he would never forget: “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Intriguingly, Tiger Woods echoed the Englishman’s comments when, later that same week, he talked of how, in ’24, he would be aiming his game at the majors and the PNC Championship, the end-of-year parent-child tournament in which he plays with his son, Charlie. Meanwhile, LIV’s Bubba Watson said that he would be begging the relevant officials to let him play in the event with his older child, Caleb, at some point.
Maybe the time is not too far away when winning a big event with a family member might be the one thing which every LIV man craves above the so-called riches of Saudi Arabia.
When the amateur game was at its peak, U.K. events such as the Sunningdale Foursomes and the Worplesdon Foursomes were among the tournaments on the golfing calendar. They would be covered by top golf writers such as Bernard Darwin (The Times) and Leonard Crawley (The Daily Telegraph) and, in each case, they would get more column inches than events other than the majors and the Walker, Curtis and Ryder cups.
The legendary Joyce Wethered and Cyril Tolley, a two-time British Amateur champion and a French Open winner, were arguably the most famous winning combination at Worplesdon. For a more recent result, the late Sir Michael and Lady Angela Bonallack won in 1958, the year of their marriage.
The above tournaments remain popular but, sad to say, it was a sign of the fast-advancing times when the amateur hierarchy stopped viewing them as “counting events” when it came to team selection. Even the annual match between Cambridge students and the leading women of the day was suddenly short of recruits as the women accepted that it probably was more important to catch the eye of the selectors than an eligible male.
No wonder Fitzpatrick and his mum are going to remember that day on the Old Course. In contrast to the Ryder Cup hullabaloo at Marco Simone in Italy, spectators at the Dunhill included a high percentage of friendly local dog walkers whose charges knew how to behave on a links, with a “no barking” rule seemingly taken for granted.
The canines might have wondered why no one was stopping Russell Fitzpatrick, husband of Susan and father of Matt and his younger brother, Alex, from chasing about the place, but he had good reason.
One moment, he was watching Matt and Susan, and the next he was hurrying back down the links to see how Alex was faring in his bid to make it to the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai finale. At the same time, he was keeping half an eye on the live-scoring link to see whether Marcus Armitage might end up having the better of Matt in the championship itself.
Meanwhile, a fresh light was thrown on that well-worn “Beware the injured golfer” saying when it seemed as if Susan’s pain had done its bit to stifle any golfing nerves. Only when she was asked to join Matt for a Sky TV interview did a touch of anxiety take over.
However, with the team trophy a certainty when Fitzpatrick and his mother returned to base, the round of family hugs was able to begin. First, there was one between a proud Russell and Susan; next, it was the turn of Susan and Matt; and after that, it was Russell and Matt as Russell was simultaneously able to confirm that Matt had done the double of team and individual titles. As for Alex, he finished 13 shots behind Matt while matching his older brother’s closing 66.
When it came to the press conferences, Matt acknowledged that his own game had been good, but he had so much more to say about his mother. She had been playing with a brace on her left knee, and her limp told everything about an operation which was drawing nigh.
“Tiger apart,” Matt said, “she’s the only player I know to have won a tournament on one leg.” (Woods, of course, was playing with a battered anterior cruciate ligament and a double stress fracture of his left tibia on his way to defeating Rocco Mediate in 19 extra holes at the 2008 U.S. Open.)
She spoke shyly of what a wonderful week they had enjoyed and, typically, she could not have spoken more highly of her son and his friend Josh Jamieson, who had carried her bag. “He gave me the right lines and the right clubs all the way.”
Such was her scoring on the last day that she bettered her son on four occasions with three net birdies and an eagle, at the 14th.
The family are probably way too modest to consider such a thing, but how their friends would delight in a Christmas card of Matt and Susan sitting on the Swilcan Bridge with their trophies in hand.
Top: Matt Fitzpatrick and his mother, Susan, celebrate triumph at the Dunhill Links.
PHOTOS: OCTAVIO PASOS, GETTY IMAGES