Matt - the Man of Steel
IN THE end it was a fairytale ending that just demanded to be written, reports DANNY LOCKWOOD. After four hours of nerve-shattering golfing drama, Matt Fitzpatrick stood on the 18th tee at Brookline’s Country Club course with history awaiting. A one shot lead over his playing partner Will Zalatoris, and a record of getting it done on this course – reference to him winning the 2013 US Amateur here. Except on that occasion he’d wrapped up the title well before the 18th. The Sheffield United fan had been virtually faultless from tee to green all day. Only his usually assured putter had wavered occasionally as the lead kept changing between himself, Zalatoris and world no.1 Scottie Scheffler. Back on the 18th tee there came that final, flat, fast swing of a 3-wood – and the ball hooked left into a devilish bunker with a grass mound in the middle and 160 yards to go. What followed was the day’s defining moment. Far from baling out, Fitz was going for it. Afterwards he said: “If there was one shot that I’ve struggled with this year that I just do not want, it’s a fairway bunker shot. I guess Billy just took over. It’s one of the best shots I’ve hit of all-time. When I saw it leave the sand and I felt the strike, I couldn’t be happier.” It also drew praise from the great man himself. “That shot played out of the fairway bunker on 18 was one of the great iron shots under pressure I’ve ever seen,” wrote Jack Nicklaus on Twitter. There were other highlights earlier, including being the only player on the day to drive the par-4 13th for birdie, which is testament to the new length he has found in his driving. On the 15th he rolled in a stunning 50-foot birdie to take control once and for all. Having got to 18ft from that final bunker, Fitz showed nerves of steel to close out his par then stand and watch as Zalatoris tried to force a play-off from 14ft. As his putt slipped agonisingly by, it seemed to take a few moments for the significance to dawn. For his caddy Billy Foster, winning his first Major after many years on the bag for some of the greats, it was all too much. He pulled his cap over his eyes, before kissing the flag on Brookline’s 18th. In his victory speech Fitzpatrick referenced Nicklaus teasing him over not winning in the US. In winning both the US Amateur and Open at the same club he joined the only other man to have achieved the feat – Nicklaus himself, at Pebble Beach. “I am confident many more victories will follow,” added Jack Nicklaus.
He’s not alone in thinking that.
ALEX DOES A QUICK U-TURN
HAVING been at Brookline all week, younger brother Alex flew home on Saturday to Charlotte, North Carolina, as he prepared for his professional debut at the Irish Open. He drove the 90 minutes to his apartment just to find Matt had shot to the top of the leaderboard, tied with Zalatoris. He was up at 5am to fly back to Boston. Speaking to the press after the win, Alex said: “At the start of the week people were expecting him to go out and win because of what happened in 2013. You could take it as pressure, who knows how it’s going to go, but he stayed calm and had a good game plan. I didn’t think I would cry, but I ended up crying. That’s going to look bad on TV. “I’ve said for a long time he deserves one more than anyone I can think of. If I showed you how hard he works and the things he does to get better, it would blow your mind, honestly. “I guess there is such thing as golf gods, but for it to happen here is extra special.” A FAMILY AFFAIR....
IT WASN'T just the memories of how he won as an 18-year-old that the Fitzpatricks channeled on their return to Brookline. They stayed with the same host family, Will and Jennifer Fulton, and their three children Sam, Annabelle and George. Mum and dad Susan and Russell Fitzpatrick and brother Alex stayed there, too, just like nine years ago. “We each took the same bedrooms,” mum Susan said, adding that she, too, is a big believer in fate. Then again, there were some new additions. “Matt had a chef from Sheffield who’s been with us for a couple of tournaments,” Susan said. “There’s so much work that goes into golf; I don’t think anybody quite realizes. I’m not a numbers person at all. It amazes me how he does it.” Out on the course, nerve-shredded viewers could be forgiven for seeing Matt and Billy Foster sharing a laugh on the 17th green! If that’s a coping mechanism it certainly works. As Matt said afterwards: “It’s a long week. I said to Billy going up 14, I said, ‘Billy, I hate this. This is horrible’,” he said laughing. “And up to that point really, I’d really not missed many shots. I can’t tell you how happy I am it’s over,” he added, “but at the same time, I can’t tell you how happy I am, how well I’ve grinded out there and how well I played. It means so much,” said Matt. It meant so much to a great many people.