Sheffield star Matthew Fitzpatrick ends England’s 102-year wait for a US Amateur champion, writes Michael McEwan
HOW good was your summer? No matter how much you enjoyed it, it probably wasn’t even half as good as Hallamshire golfer Matthew Fitzpatrick’s. As well as qualifying for the Open Championship at Muirfield and winning the Silver Medal, the 19-year-old also achieved something that no English golfer has managed in over a century when he won the US Amateur Championship.
Sheffield star Fitzpatrick sealed victory in one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments when he beat Australia’s Matt Goss 4&3 at Brookline. In doing so, he emulated Harold Hilton, the only other English winner in the 118-year history of the championship, who got his hands on the iconic Havemeyer Trophy in 1911.
Making Fitzpatrick’s achievement all the more remarkable is the fact that, prior to this year, the US Amateur had been won only 12 times by players from outwith the United States.
As such, his name will now forever be etched alongside some of golf’s most famous players as a winner of an event that was, until the 1930s, considered to be one of golf’s majors.
Tiger Woods famously won it three times in a row between 1994 and 1996, Phil Mickelson claimed it in 1990 and, going even further back, Jack Nicklaus won it twice (1959 and 1961), Arnold Palmer took the honours in 1954 and, of course, Bobby Jones won it five times in seven years between 1924 and 1930.
So, Fitzpatrick is in good company and, speaking exclusively to English Club Golfer shortly after returning home from the States, he revealed he was still trying to come to terms with the enormity of what he had done.
“It’s all a bit surreal, to be honest,” said Fitzpatrick. “It feels great, there’s no denying it, and I don’t think you’ll find a better roll call of former winners anywhere, with the exception maybe of the Masters.
“The names are just amazing and it’s fantastic to be one of them now. I had a quick glance at some of them - like Mickelson, Nicklaus, Palmer and Woods - and, yeah, it’s very special.”
Despite his hot form in the lead up to the championship, Fitzpatrick revealed that he had went to Brookline with modest aims.
He explained: “I was feeling fairly confident as I’d been playing nicely but, really, my first aim was just to qualify for the matchplay stages. I wasn’t looking beyond that and it probably wasn’t until I reached the semi-finals that I started to seriously think that I might have a chance.
“Matchplay golf is so unpredictable that you can’t afford to get ahead of yourself. You can go round in five-under and lose, or just as easily, go round in five-over and win. That’s just the way it is. But, yeah, when I got to the semis, I started to feel as though it could be my week.”
Fitzpatrick also admitted that he felt right at home playing in front of a big crowd - which is just as well given how many people turned up to watch.
“The crowds were massive, which was fantastic,” he said. “There must have been a good 5,000 of them there for the final, which is totally unlike anything we get for an amateur event over here.
I’ve never been to the final of the Amateur Championship but I gather you get somewhere in the region of 1,000 people for it, which is tiny compared to the US Amateur.
“But I felt quite comfortable dealing with all of that attention after playing in the Open. I was nervous but not overly so, and I have to say that the spectators were brilliant with me, they were really fair throughout but, to be honest, for the most part I tried to just block out everyone and everything else as best I could and concentrate on hitting one shot at a time.”
The 2012 British Boys champion made the trip to the States with his mum, dad and younger brother Alex, who doubled up as his caddie. At 14, Alex quickly caught the imagination of those following the championship. Some people were even quick to draw comparisons with another winner of the US Amateur at Brookline, Francis Ouimet, who employed ten-year-old local caddie Eddie Lowery when he won the championship exactly 100 years earlier.
“Yeah, I saw that,” laughed Matthew. “It’s nice to have that link with history and I can definitely see the similarities.”
As you might expect, Fitzpatrick has become something of a household name over the summer as result of all of his success, with people queuing up to congratulate him in the wake of his US Amateur win - some very famous people amongst them.
“I’ve had messages from so many people,” he revealed. “Lee Westwood sent me one, as did Ian Poulter, and I got a really nice message from Jesper Parnevik, too, whose old caddie carried my bag at the Open. There were almost too many messages to go through, to be honest, and I would love to take this chance to say a big ‘thanks’ to everyone who has been in touch. If I haven’t replied, please don’t think it’s because I reckon I’m a ‘Big Time Charlie’ now!
“It’s just that I’ve had so many people getting in touch that I haven’t got time to thank everyone personally. I mean, on Twitter, I had around 2,400 followers at the start of the US Amateur. By the end of it, I was pushing 6,000. It’s just crazy!”
Fame is just one of the perks of Fitzpatrick’s summer of success; another more significant one is that he is now qualified for three of 2014’s four majors: the Masters, the US Open, and the Open. Those places are conditional on him staying amateur, which, of course, he’s going to do.
“I’m definitely sticking around,” he said. “I want to take my time and make my decisions about my future carefully.
“As it stands, I’m starting at Northwestern University this autumn and I intend to see my degree all the way through to the end. I want to make sure that I’ve got something to fall back on in case this summer is as good as it ever gets for me.
“Of course, the fact that I’m also entered into three majors next year is huge, too. I’m really looking forward to those experiences, particularly the Masters. Augusta is somewhere that every player wants to play and I just can’t wait to go there and see what it’s like.”
On current form, you wouldn’t bet against him winning the low amateur honours there, too.