A golf course such as The Country Club is going to see its share of history over 130 years.
The 17th hole has the “Vardon bunker,” the fairway bunker that swallowed Harry Vardon’s ball and helped amateur Francis Ouimet win the 1913 US Open.
The 17th green is unofficially known as Justin Leonard’s after he sunk a 45-foot putt in the 1999 Ryder Cup to clinch the Americans’ comeback victory.
Sunday at the US Open, a new TCC landmark earned a nickname. The 18th fairway now has “Fitzpatrick’s bunker.”
Matt Fitzpatrick, a 27-year-old from Sheffield, England, changed his life Sunday with his win at the US Open. With a four-day score of 6-under-par 274, one lower than Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler, Fitzpatrick won his first major and posted his first professional victory in the United States.
Fitzpatrick, who jumped to 10th in the world rankings and has seven victories in Europe and two PGA Tour runner-up finishes, wouldn’t be holding the US Open championship trophy and a $3.15 million check if not for a brilliant, and downright courageous, approach shot from a bunker on the left side of the 18th fairway.
Not even Fitzpatrick expected to pull off the shot from 161 yards away.
“One thing that I’ve been really struggling with this year is fairway bunker play,” he said. “Still not 100 percent out of it. But I just committed to the shot we kind of planned. Yeah, it was amazing.”
Nursing a one-shot lead over Zalatoris and Scheffler, and with Zalatoris sitting in the fairway and staring down a potential birdie opportunity, Fitzpatrick made the shot of his life from the bunker.
His shot carried the massive front bunker and landed 18 feet from the pin, right in the middle of the green. Fitzpatrick made an easy two-putt for par, and was crowned champion when Zalatoris’s birdie putt slid 2 inches to the left of the cup.
“Matt’s shot on 18 is going to be shown probably for the rest of US Open history,” Zalatoris said.
The bunker shot was only necessary because Fitzpatrick hooked his drive, in what seemed like an overly aggressive play.
Zalatoris, who finished second at a major for the second time this year (PGA Championship) and third time in his young career, couldn’t help but marvel.
“That golf shot was 1 in 20, at best,” he said. “To pull it off in that situation is incredible.”
How do you define clutch?@MattFitz94 hit this shot on 18 to help secure the #USOpen title. pic.twitter.com/iQcOGxph0Z— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) June 19, 2022
Fitzpatrick’s win at the 122nd US Open was historic. Nine years ago, he navigated through a deep field that included Scheffler, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Zalatoris to win the 2013 US Amateur at The Country Club.
Now he again walks away from TCC as a champion, defeating many of the same golfers. Fitzpatrick became just the second male golfer to win a US Amateur and US Open at the same course. Jack Nicklaus did it at Pebble Beach in 1961 and 1972. Now, Fitzpatrick pulled off the feat at the same course that helped popularize golf in the United States thanks to Ouimet and his improbable win in 1913.
“It is so cliche, but it’s stuff you dream of as a kid,” said Fitzpatrick, whose previous best finish at a US Open was 12th in 2018 and 2019. “I can retire a happy man tomorrow.”
This week’s championship came with seven years of anticipation, since the USGA awarded it to The Country Club in 2015. And by every objective measure, the championship blew everyone’s expectations away.
The weather was perfect — cool and breezy all week, with no delays. The leaderboard was dominated by the world’s best players. A local favorite, Keegan Bradley, made a run at the trophy and riled up the crowd. The back nine on Sunday came down to a tense, three-horse race. The Boston gallery witnessed an accomplishment by Fitzpatrick that has only happened twice in 122 years.
The course was enjoyably punishing, with only nine of 156 golfers finishing under par. And the golfers, most of whom had never been on the grounds before, fell in love with TCC’s iconic, 130-year-old layout.
“I thought it was the best place I’ve played in a while,” said Collin Morikawa, who finished tied for fifth after shooting a 4-under 66 on Sunday. “There’s only been a handful of courses where I really step foot on property, and you see it for a short period of time, and then you think you’re going to love it. And this was one of them.”
TCC also produced a worthy champion in Fitzpatrick.
Players with 11 combined major championships were chasing him throughout the round, with Scheffler, Hideki Matsuyama, Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, Bradley, Gary Woodland, and Jon Rahm all packed tightly on the leaderboard.
“The environment out there was definitely intense,” said Scheffler, this year’s Masters champion and No. 1 in the world rankings. “The crowds were crazy this week. They were really, really going nuts, and it was a ton of fun.”
But Fitzpatrick played like a champion, carding two early birdies and showing a veteran’s understanding of TCC’s blind shots, slick fairways, punishing rough, and tiny greens. Fitzpatrick became the third Englishman since 1925 to win the US Open, joining Tony Jacklin (1970) and Justin Rose (2013).
Fitzpatrick hit putts of 48 and 19 feet on the back nine to take the lead. Then he finished with three straight pars, and shut the door with his miraculous fairway bunker shot on 18.
“It’s one of the best shots I ever hit, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I love playing this golf course. 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.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.