A baby-faced amateur with a pint-sized caddie wins a prestigious tournament at The Country Club in front of a large, loud crowd watching golf history unfold.
Heard it before? That 100-year-old tale is a great story, and so is this one. Turns out, there’s a connection between Francis Ouimet and Matt Fitzpatrick. And this kid, while not American, has an Irish name and Irish in his blood, so he quickly endeared himself to many of the 5,200 fans walking down the fairways Sunday as he took on Oliver Goss in the 36-hole championship match of the 113th US Amateur.
That’s roughly half the number of spectators who turned out Sept. 20, 1913, to watch Ouimet walk across Clyde Street and beat the two best professionals in golf at the time, the British pair of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in a playoff for the US Open. All week, Ouimet was joined at the hip to Eddie Lowery, his 10-year-old caddie sidekick.
Fitzpatrick gave the gig to his 14-year-old brother, Alex, and the physical resemblance was striking. While maybe not the underdogs that Ouimet and Lowery were — Matt came into the tournament as the No. 2-ranked amateur in the world, after all, and Alex is also a strong player — the brothers Fitzpatrick don’t cut imposing figures. But just like Ouimet and Lowery, the British boys went out and got the job done.
Sunday’s 4-and-3 victory over Goss never would have happened for Fitzpatrick if not for Ouimet.
Sound like a hyperbolic stretch? Let Russell Fitzpatrick explain.
“The reason we came here was because of Francis Ouimet, really,” Matt Fitzpatrick’s father said near the 15th green, after his son’s victory. “I’d read the book [‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’, written by Mark Frost and chronicling the 1913 US Open]. Matt edged into the top 50 of the world rankings, and we wondered where the US Amateur is. I saw it was The Country Club and said to him, ‘Do you fancy this?’ That’s why we’re here. If it had been perhaps another club that I wasn’t aware of the history, we probably never would have come.
“I really wanted to come here, selfishly, because the book’s fantastic and it was a fantastic story. I never thought it would end like this, though.”
Fitzpatrick ended more than a century’s worth of British heartache at The Country Club on Sunday, with Vardon and Ray, Nick Faldo (1988 US Open), and the 1999 European Ryder Cup team all coming up short.
The 18-year-old did not, displaying the kind of all-around game that is perfectly suited for The Country Club. He was long enough off the tee, straight enough (much more important, considering the gnarly rough), and able to save par almost every time he missed a green and was forced to scramble.
That takes a cool customer. Like Ouimet, or Curtis Strange at the ’88 Open. Fitzpatrick appears to have a golf game mature beyond his young years, not showing much emotion and not letting one bad swing turn into more bad swings. He has the kind of in-control demeanor that is rare in professional golf, much less amateur golf.
Admittedly, his father — whose paternal grandfather was from Ireland — can be fiery. Russell Fitzpatrick said his wife, Susan, can be fiery, too. So where does their older son get his calm, unflappable presence?
“Sue’s brother [David Creasey], he died seven years ago, he was 33 and had cancer, and he was an incredibly calm individual. [Matt] has the same build, has the same mannerisms,” Russell said. “Matt would have been about 11 when he died. It was tragic, really, it took a long, long time to get over that. If you lose, if you get knocked out in the first round, that’s nothing compared to something like that.”
But Fitzpatrick didn’t lose. When he won, ever the sportsman, he shook hands with his 19-year-old Australian opponent after his par putt on No. 15 to extend the match missed. Then he shook hands with the match referee, the two young standard-bearers, a few other volunteers and US Golf Association officials. Finally, it was the appropriate time to hug his parents.
Fitzpatrick said all the right things in his remarks to the crowd gathered at the 15th green, after he had been given the Havemeyer Trophy. He thanked the volunteers, the spectators, the USGA, the staff and members of The Country Club and Charles River Country Club, his coach, his parents, and, finally, his brother. Alex can expect a new Scotty Cameron putter, courtesy of his victorious sibling. Proper payment for a full week’s work.
Long after the trophy presentation, when the noise had finally quieted and all the pictures taken, Fitzpatrick studied the gold inscriptions of the previous winners. The first name he saw was Tiger Woods, listed three times. Ouimet’s name is also there, twice.
Now, Matt Fitzpatrick’s name will be added. With an assist from his father, who convinced him to come to The Country Club, and his brother, who convinced Fitzpatrick that he could win.
“Really happy for my family, as they’ve put so much time and effort into me,” said Fitzpatrick, who will likely be named Monday to the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team, and face the US team Sept. 7-8 in Southampton, N.Y., right before he reports for his freshman year at Northwestern. “Something like this is really quite rewarding for them, as well.”