How much has life changed for Matt Fitzpatrick in the last month? An informal interview with some assembled golf media was interrupted Thursday afternoon when golf superagent Chubby Chandler got out of a car, offered a congratulatory hand to the young English lad for his fine play, and wished him luck this weekend.
The car door closed, Chandler drove off, and Fitzpatrick resumed his press obligations, picking up right where he left off in mid-sentence.
Attracting the attention of golf’s movers and shakers might have seemed beyond Fitzpatrick’s wildest dreams at the start of the summer, when he was more concerned with the final exams he’d need for university — more on that later — than about his golf game.
But ever since he qualified for the British Open, things have changed. He played surprisingly well at Muirfield, earning low amateur honors with a tie for 44th. He then lost in the final of the English Amateur, and now, at the 113th US Amateur at The Country Club, he’s positioned himself for a run at the championship, which would be historic. The last English golfer to win the US Amateur was Harold Hilton, in 1911. He’s also the only English golfer to win the US Amateur.
Two wins by Fitzpatrick on Thursday — he beat Blake Morris in the morning, and Gavin Hall in the afternoon, both by 4-and-3 scores — have placed him in the quarterfinals. The 18-year-old from Sheffield will face 19-year-old Adam Ball Friday morning, with a spot in the semifinals at stake.
To make it even better, he’ll have his 14-year-old brother, Alex, on the bag once again as caddie, and his parents in the gallery.
Fitzpatrick’s star is certainly rising, enough to make people like Chandler take notice (agents show their faces at tournaments like this, as do college coaches and representatives for equipment manufacturers).
“Absolutely amazing,” Fitzpatrick said, asked to describe his summer. “The Open week was the best week of my life by quite a mile.”
He might challenge that here, but only if he ends up with the Havemeyer Trophy. It would make for a nice dorm room accessory when Fitzpatrick shows up for his freshman year next month at Northwestern, which was the college choice of another talented Englishman, Luke Donald.
Unlike others from the UK who bypass college and turn pro at an early age (Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy come to mind), Fitzpatrick wants the university experience. Professional golf, especially since he’s having so much fun and success as an amateur, can definitely wait. Sorry, Chubby.
Against Hall, Fitzpatrick never trailed, and benefited from multiple mistakes by his opponent. Twice Fitzpatrick won holes, despite making bogeys.
“I missed a lot of greens, and when you do that out here it’s very difficult to get up and down,” said Hall, headed to Texas this fall. “Matt did a great job making pars, and he wasn’t going to let a bogey win holes, and I did. He made bogeys and he won holes, and those are just mistakes you can’t make.”
The golf in their match was ragged in spots. Hall bogeyed No. 3 to fall one hole down, then three-putted No. 5 for a bogey (matched by Fitzpatrick, who was bunkered), bogeyed the short sixth (matched by Fitzpatrick, whose approach went over the green), and doubled the seventh, losing the hole to fall two down.
Fitzpatrick birdied No. 9 to go 3 up, then relied on his short game to put Hall away: Fitzpatrick missed his final four greens, but saved par each time. His last up-and-down, at the par-4 15th, ended the match.
“Gavin gave me maybe a couple holes, and to be fair I held in there by making quite a few good up-and-downs,” Fitzpatrick said. “That was a positive.”
Fitzpatrick seems a safe bet to make the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team, especially if he wins here. He’s No. 2 in the world amateur rankings, and only one other player in the top 10 (Brady Watt of Australia, who’s ninth) is in the quarterfinals.
Despite all that, Fitzpatrick said he doesn’t feel any pressure. His kid brother — a good stick himself — helps keep him loose.
About the only tense moment from Thursday came early in the morning, from across the pond, when Fitzpatrick was waiting to hear his results from the university entrance exam. He’s headed to Northwestern, so the marks he received wouldn’t mean much, but he still wanted to do well. His girlfriend from back home delivered the news.
“Two C’s and a B,” Fitzpatrick announced. “Looking back, it’s not the end of the world. I was disappointed this morning, and was half thinking to take it out on the golf course.”
He spared the golf course, and took it out on his opponents instead. Fitzpatrick has won all three of his matches by the same 4-and-3 score, never getting pushed past the 15th hole.
Three matches down, three more between Fitzpatrick — or any of the other quarterfinalists — and history.