Oh brother, so close for Alex

September 10, 2018

 

ALEX FITZPATRICK’S fairytale run  in the US Amateur finally came to end in the quarter-finals at the hands of a man called Hammer. The Hallamshire golfer was trying to complete a historic family double by lifting the trophy just five years after brother Matt had become the first English winner since Harold Hilton in 1911.

In 2013 Alex went the full eight rounds on the bag for older brother Matt, now a professional with four European Tour victories to his credit. Matt won that year at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts where Alex, then 14, told jokes to calm his brother on the final hole of the championship match and offered his opinion sparingly. 

“His level of golf was excellent, and I thought it was the best week of golf I’ve had so far,” a young Alex, clad in his red caddie bib, told the USGA on camera at the end of the week. At the end of the interview, Alex explained that he would caddie more if his brother needed it, but there was his own golf game to attend to.  And how he has come of age.

Playing in his first US Amateur he had to draw on his short game in the early stages when his iron play deserted him. With a lack of feel for his irons Thursday morning in the Round of 32, the Yorkshire champion had to lean hard on his short game. It held up superbly.  “I can’t say I played my best golf out there today,” Fitzpatrick said. “Struggled with driver, struggled with irons, luckily my short game was OK today. That saved me quite a lot.” He had despatched Argentina’s Jesus Montenegro in the second round. Montenegro knocked off World No. 1 Braden Thornberry in the first round. Fitzpatrick’s work around the greens on that day shone, too.  The pair threw out only three birdies over the first nine holes before the match stalled in Montenegro’s favour at the turn. One down, Fitzpatrick sharpened his wedges and charged.  Fitzpatrick, who guessed he hit fewer than nine greens in a match that went 20 holes, squared it at No. 12 when he blasted out of a front bunker and hung his ball on the lip. Another deft pitch out of sand right of No. 13 left him even with Montenegro.  Fitzpatrick failed to make par from the sand on No. 17 and trailed on the 18th tee. When Montenegro pulled his drive into Stillwater Cove, it prompted a long conversation between Fitzpatrick and caddie John Pak. Fitzpatrick already had driver in his hand.  “I told him to still hit driver, there’s actually a lot more room than you think,” said Pak, a Florida State sophomore who had failed to make it through to the match play stages. “It’s a scary tee shot, but the way I just explained it is ‘there’s 50 yards of room you can work with and that’s a lot. You’re not going to miss it more than 25 yards on each side, so just trust it’.” Fitzpatrick found a right fairway bunker, bounced from there to a left fairway bunker, then stuck it to 30 feet and two-putted for par to force extra holes. He ultimately won at the second, with a par set up by a 197-yard 9-iron to the front of the green. It was a last-minute bit of redemption on a shaky day of ball striking. “My iron play has been really good for the last three or four years,” Fitzpatrick said on the way to grab lunch and hit a small bucket of balls before his afternoon match. “It’s been pretty consistent.” After beating Montenegro in 20 holes, he needed 19 holes to finish off McClure Meissner, of San Antonio, in the afternoon. But Cole Hammer ended the dream when he birdied the 16th to secure a 3&2 victory.

The title eventually went to Viktor Hovland who became the first Norwegian to win the US Amateur after beating UCLA sophomore Devon Bling 6&5.

Even though Fitzpatrick had been down this road before, albeit in a different guise, he didn’t receive much inside advice from his older brother, who was playing the Wyndham Championship on an opposite coast the same week.

“Good luck,” Fitzpatrick said tongue in cheek when asked to repeat Matthew’s pre-championships words. “That was it.”

His defeat to Hammer triggered a week’s holiday Stateside with his parents and brother before embarking on a new chapter of his life. Like his sibling, Fitzpatrick will play college golf in the US this month, but it will be at Wake Forest instead of Northwestern. Matt Fitzpatrick only stayed on campus for a quarter, but Alex’s thoughts on social media suggests his sojourn may last longer.

When Alex tweeted news of his commitment in May 2017, he did it this way: “Extremely happy to say I have made a verbal commitment to play golf at Wake Forest in 2018. “Hopefully last longer than my brother.”

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