Major winner Matt Fitzpatrick arrives at the renowned Los Angeles Country Club this month poised to etch his name even deeper into golfing history. A mere year ago, the talented Englishman joined the legendary Jack Nicklaus as the sole players to conquer both the US Amateur and the U.S. Open on the same course. Now, with another opportunity before him, the 28-year-old stands on the verge of elevating his legacy to unprecedented heights.
By Will Kent
As Fitzpatrick walked up the 451-yard par four finishing hole at The Country Club on Sunday last year, he must have questioned whether this was going to be his time. His tee shot found a terrifying left-side fairway bunker and the upcoming task of escaping it was one that fills nightmares of every golfer on the planet. Yet, in his case, this nerve-racking test unfolded inside the pressure cooker of trying to win a Major.
The two-time Ryder Cupper describes an exquisite short-iron from the sand which ended just a few yards from the pin. It was at this point, when his Titleist Pro V1X touched the putting surface, that the rigid structure of strokeplay momentarily dissolved. It was duel between himself, and American Will Zalatoris, who was lingering his rear-view mirror.
“The way the lie was is it forced me not to go towards the pin,” reflected the Englishman. “I just felt I had to hit the green. If I could hit the green, it puts pressure on Will. I knew full well Will was going to hit it close. He’s one of the best approach players on Tour. That’s the good thing about knowing your stats, you know who you’re playing against. When I hit that shot, I thought at least I’ve got a chance too.”
Fitzpatrick needed two putts to secure an unlikely par and a round final round of 68. Meanwhile Zalatoris, in a bid to for a play-off, narrowly missed his birdie putt, settling for second place alongside Scottie Scheffler just one stroke back. In an instant, the thrilling climax came to an end, and the British star emerged as the triumphant champion, basking in the well-deserved glory of his extraordinary victory with his closest friends and family on the 18th green.
“I just love winning,” added Fitzpatrick. “I absolutely love winning. I don’t care who it is, but I just want to beat everyone. Although it doesn’t come across as I don’t show it much because I like to be quite reserved. I just love beating everyone. It’s as simple as that. Anyone else on Tour would say the same thing. That’s why the guys are the best, and that’s why they play so well.”
The Sheffield superstar added to his resume again in April as he beat three-time Major winner Jordan Spieth in a play-off at the elevated RBC Heritage event on the PGA Tour. With this latest triumph, the 2013 Silver Medal winner is now comfortably a top ten player in the world, while evading the bold, brash and outspoken model that many of the modern-day professionals adopt. Instead he’s a quiet, meticulous worker who wholeheartedly trusts the process. It’s evident the 28-year-old has the mettle to remain at the pinnacle of professional golf for many years to come.
“You want to go win more now, there’s no doubt about that,” explained Fitzpatrick on the idea claiming more victories. “I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. I’m delighted with one Major so far. I just don’t think people realise how hard it is to win a Major. There’s only four of them a year. It just takes a little bit extra.”
The world’s elite can move the ball both ways, consistently find the centre of the clubface and often drive it over 300 yards. On a weekly basis, the margins that separate them are razor-thin on the PGA Tour. There’s no room for error and in this ceaseless pursuit of perfection, the quest for marginal gains becomes paramount with even the slightest improvements yielding huge outcomes. At the top end of the sport, other people and their influence can often deliver the greatest results. For Fitzpatrick, the introduction of the legendary caddy, Billy Foster, proved to be the catalyst that helped elevate his game to new heights.
Foster reminded me at the DP World Tour Championship last year that when they started working together that Fitzpatrick didn’t even have a full PGA Tour card. And Foster himself, who despite decades caddying for some of the game’s best, was also yet to feature on the bag for a Major win. It seems the ‘Fitzpatrick & Foster’ combo was just fate just waiting to happen, but does the eight-time DP World Tour winner believe in such destiny?
“I’d say yes,” answered Fitzpatrick. “Billy had been saying for a while, ‘the time will come. You’re playing so well. Just keep doing what you’re doing. It will come. It will happen’. It’s stuff you dream of as a kid. To achieve it, I can retire a happy man.”
Despite having now an accomplished career filled with the biggest accolades, the reigning U.S. Open champion embodies the spirit of a true champion who never settles for mediocrity. In the company of fellow British Major champions of this era – Justin Rose and Danny Willett – his name is already etched alongside the very best. Yet, the pursuit of another triumph beckons, one that would propel him into uncharted territory with the most recent Brit to secure multiple Major victories being Sir Nick Faldo.
And as the defending champion of the next Major, Fitzpatrick enters the tournament this month with the knowledge that he has what it takes to conquer the challenges that lie ahead. With his remarkable talent, untiring dedication and hunger for success, he stands poised to add another extraordinary chapter to his already-remarkable journey.