Matt Fitzpatrick and caddie Mike Boddy (pic by Phil Inglis) ()
Matthew Fitzpatrick will seek to enhance his burgeoning reputation at this week’s Azerbaijan Golf Challenge Open with a hot performance in the ‘Land of Fire’.
The Challenge Tour’s maiden voyage to Azerbaijan is an entirely new experience even for the most seasoned of players; but for Fitzpatrick in particular everything feels fresh, having only made his debut on the developmental tour in last week’s Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge.
That Fitzpatrick confessed to feeling mildly disappointed with a tied eighth finish in France, having at one point got into the lead on the final day, shows the levels of expectation he – and indeed other observers – have placed on his young shoulders.
But as the 19 year old readily admitted, being able to cope in the white hot heat of battle down the stretch on a Sunday afternoon is one of the many lessons he is hoping to learn over the remainder of his debut professional campaign.
“Last week was definitely a learning curve for me,” said the Sheffield native.
“I played really well for 63 holes, but unfortunately couldn’t quite finish it off on the back nine on Sunday. Everyone says that’s where the tournament is won or lost, and unfortunately it was the latter for me.
“But I don’t feel like I threw it away, it was more a case of Andrew [Johnston] playing very well to win. And I have to remind myself I’m still only 19, so I’ve still got so much to learn about myself and the game.”
Fitzpatrick will continue his education at The National Azerbaijan Golf Club, in Quba, where he will be joined by some familiar faces in the form of his former Walker Cup team-mates Callum Shinkwin, Garrick Porteous, Max Orrin and Nathan Kimsey.
The firm greens and thick rough are set to test both the talent and temperament of the 156 players competing for the €300,000 prize fund, but Fitzpatrick’s youthful exuberance shines though as he discusses the prospect of teeing up in an alien environment, where golf’s profile is – at least at present – in its embryonic stages.
“It’s exciting to be able to come to places like Azerbaijan, because it’s not the sort of place you’d necessarily expect to come and play golf. So we’re very lucky to be doing what we do, visiting new places and experiencing new cultures. It’s a different environment to what I’ve been used to, and you can only benefit from it.
“The course is a very nice layout, and it’s in good condition. The greens are very firm and the rough is extremely thick in places, so you probably won’t have a shot in if you don’t find the fairways. But it’ll be a great experience to play on a different course and in different conditions, because that’s the only way you’re going to improve and become a more complete player.”
Fitzpatrick’s chief aim in the remainder of the campaign is to emulate the achievements of a certain Rory McIlroy, who accrued enough winnings through his four sponsor’s invitations in 2007 to earn a place on The European Tour the following term.
But, as is befitting of a man who is yet to spend any of the €49,240 he has accrued in his four events since he relinquished his amateur status, Fitzpatrick’s outlook remains refreshingly level-headed.
He said: “The standard on the Challenge Tour is very high, but hopefully I can play well enough in the events I’ve got left this year to get a full card for next season, so that I can plan my schedule. I’d love to be playing on The European Tour next season, but that’s obviously going to be very difficult and in some ways a full season on the Challenge Tour may be better for me in the long term.
“I just need to get used to playing in professional tournaments because there is a big step up from the amateur game, and so the Challenge Tour is a great stepping stone in that respect. It’s quite a ruthless world out here and a missed putt here or there can potentially end up costing you €1,000, which over the course of the season can really affect your potion in the rankings. So you’ve got to learn fast, but I’m confident enough in my abilities that I can adapt quickly.”