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Fitzpatrick’s Major breakthrough forged in steel

Fitzpatrick’s Major breakthrough forged in steel

Matt Fitzpatrick played all week with a determination that reflected a golfer who truly believed his breakthrough Major moment had come.

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The 27-year-old Englishman arrived at the 122nd U.S. Open in great form, having challenged at the US PGA Championship last month, and with history on his side after he won at host venue The Country Club, Brookline at the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2013.

But he still had to make it happen, and through no lack of talent and bottle he withstood stern opposition from World Number One Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris at the end of a tense and thrilling final round in Boston on Sunday.

“I love playing this golf course,” Fitzpatrick reflected in his post-round press conference. “It suits me so well. It suits my game well. I've been playing well for a while, and I think it all just fell into place that this was the place it was going to happen.”

I've been playing well for a while, and I think it all just fell into place that this was the place it was going to happen

In the knowledge he was in the form of his professional career, Fitzpatrick mixed five birdies with three bogeys to card a closing 68 that saw him finish one shot clear of American duo Scheffler and Zalatoris, who like the Englishman was bidding for a maiden Major and first PGA TOUR title.

Fitzpatrick’s four rounds were all level par or better. His performance in the final round contrasted with the US PGA Championship at Southern Hills – when he was also in the final group. Here, under increased expectations, Fitzpatrick looked assured and displayed the required resolve on the back nine to claim his eighth worldwide title to go along with his prior seven DP World Tour titles.

Either side of Fitzpatrick’s top-five finish at the US PGA Championship – his best previous performance at a Major – he also challenged for a first PGA TOUR title at both the Wells Fargo Championship and RBC Canadian Open.

Fitzpatrick Foster-1403914701

Fitzpatrick paid tribute to his caddie Billy Foster, one of the most recognised bagmen in the game, for instilling confidence that his moment in the spotlight would come.

“Billy had been saying for a while, the time will come. You're playing so well,” he added. "Just keep doing what you're doing. It will come. It will happen. I put myself in position after two rounds and then played well [in the third round]. I just really believed this could be the time.”

A much-highlighted element of Fitzpatrick’s triumph, in his 29th Major appearance, was the distance he has gained off the tee. Fitzpatrick ranked second in the field in strokes gained/off-the-tee at 4.82, behind only 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland.

He tied for 10th in the field in driving distance at 309.20 yards, he was fifth in fairways found (70 %) and on Sunday hit a phenomenal 17 greens in regulation. Fitzpatrick also led the field with 19 birdies over the 72 holes.

When asked about his extra distance off the tee, Fitzpatrick laughed and offered a joke: “I’ve done my drug test, and it was negative, so we’re all good.”

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He went on to explain his driving distance gains are the result of working with his coach, Mike Walker, and biomechanist Sasho Mackenzie on a system called The Stack System. The scientific, evidence-based concept uses a speed stick and an app to improve a golfer’s swing speed and timing.

“I feel like maybe three or four years ago if I was in this position, and I was playing with Will in the final group, I'd be concerned that I'm going to be 15, 20 yards behind him,” he reflected.

“I felt comfortable all day that I was going to be past him, which to me gives me confidence obviously going into the next shot knowing that you've got less club. There's a bit of a mentality thing that when you're hitting it past people, it's quite nice.”

Alongside a near 50-foot birdie putt at the 13th and another important birdie from around 20 feet at the 15th, Fitzpatrick’s success story could so easily have played out differently.

With a one-shot lead on the 72nd tee, he found a fairway bunker. With Scheffler in the clubhouse one back at five under and Zalatoris in the middle of the fairway at the same mark, a play-off appeared very possible.

Not for Fitzpatrick, though. He hit a fearless nine iron to within 19 feet and his two-putt par proved enough for victory when Zalatoris saw his 15-foot birdie putt slide past to the left.

Fitzpatrick said afterwards there was an element of “hit and hope” about the effort from the sand, but he knew it was one of the best shots of his career to date.

“It was like just kind of natural ability took over and just played the shot that was at hand, if I was a junior trying to hit it close,” he added.

Fitzpatrick at 18-1403914668

Fitzpatrick is a fanatic Sheffield United supporter, and the Blade said his victory epitomised the club and the city that has helped forge him into an elite professional golfer, now at a career-high tenth in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“Not expected to do well, not expected to succeed,” he said.

Asked where his ability to seize this opportunity had been born from, Fitzpatrick immediately knew the answer.

“My parents did such an amazing job with me,” he said. “That was the thing, they always taught me to be humble and to be down to earth, and if they're not bringing me back down to earth, my friends are. That will always be me.”

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Jack Nicklaus hailed Fitzpatrick’s final round as "one of the great rounds of golf I have ever seen" as he followed the 18-time Major winner in becoming just the second man to win the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur Championship at the same venue.

With one Major now on his resumé, Fitzpatrick is in no mood to stop there and said his target now is to try and emulate Sir Nick Faldo’s feat of six Major wins.

Earlier in the week, Fitzpatrick had spoken about the number of Majors needed to be considered a legend in the sport.

Asked on Sunday what target he had in mind, he replied: “Six is the number. That's the number that we all agreed on. I've got a bit of a way to go, but it's a good start.”

Fitzpatrick will next be in action in the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor. That is quickly followed by the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club, co-sanctioned with the PGA TOUR, before he makes the trip to St Andrews for the 150th Open Championship.

For now, there is time to celebrate and reflect on the realisation of a childhood dream.

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