Matt Fitzpatrick on Bryson-proofing golf courses, the problem with slow play and why he's fed up being known as the PGA Tour's nearly man.
Matt Fitzpatrick has come a long way since being mistaken for Tiger’s ball boy at the 2013 Open. The kid who chased Rickie Fowler for an autograph still retains the same slender build and boyish looks, but he’s gone from practising for eight hours a day at Hallamshire Golf Club in his hometown of Sheffield to rubbing shoulders with golf’s elite at Jack Nicklaus’ Bear’s Club in North Palm Beach.
The 27-year-old currently splits his time between the European Tour, where he has seven victories, and the PGA Tour where he’s still trying to make his mark.
It’s a source of frustration that he remains winless in 91 starts Stateside, especially as he’s so intent on proving that you don’t need to hit it miles to contend in today’s game.
While not blessed with the power of Bryson DeChambeau, Fitzpatrick has extracted a lot from his old-school, rhythmical swing and managed to put his Ryder Cup disappointment behind him at Valderrama to secure a three-shot victory at the Andalucia Masters.
His accuracy from tee-to-green is perhaps bettered only by his metronome-like putting stroke, which remains the envy of his peers.
He’s not bothered about chasing distance and he even got DeChambeau’s attention last year when he suggested it requires less skill to simply smash the ball harder.
Fitzpatrick still stands by that statement today and as we found out, he’s now getting a helping hand from a European Tour veteran to compensate for any shortcomings in the power stakes…
How do you assess your performances over the last 12 months?
Last year was good in spells. I played OK. I ended 2020 well, winning (the DP World Tour Championship), but it’s been non-stop since coming back after the pandemic. The most I’ve had off at one time is three weeks. My issue is that I’m always looking to improve and get better but it’s almost like, when do you switch off? It’s tough trying to find that balance.
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The Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits was obviously a big disappointment, but do you sometimes have to tip your hat to the quality of the opposition?
Yeah, it was an amazing week. They played great, and they’re an amazing bunch of players. We just have to look past that. Losing absolutely stinks, we all hate it. But they’re memories of a lifetime. The people you share it with are just amazing.
You made no secret that qualifying for the Ryder Cup was a big target for you. What’s next on your list?
The main goal is to go and win (on the PGA Tour). I’d love to tick that off. But I’m not a rookie anymore. I’m 27. In my own mind, I know I’ve got to start competing in the big events so my name is up at the top of the leaderboard more often.
It happened at the start of this year on golf courses that I love and have played well on in the past, but it’s been a real struggle this summer. I’ve not played as well as I’d have liked and that’s bitterly disappointing. Hopefully heading into next year I’ll have a good off season and can kick on, because I need to.
Have you ever considered chasing distance or are you comfortable with where your swing and game is at?
I think you’ve got to be careful about chasing distance. You’ve only got to look at people in the past who have and it hasn’t really helped. For me, it’s more about making small gains in the gym and making up for it in other areas.
I’m never going to be able to hit it as long as Bryson or somebody like DJ, purely because of my body type. The only thing I could do is make a drastic swing change, but why would I do that when I’m in an OK position now? It’s one of those where you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Do you supplement a lot of your work on the course with time in the gym?
I’m not going crazy in the gym. We don’t get enough time off to start lifting heavy and making big gains. There’s certainly not enough time during the season. Maybe in the off season there is, but even then it’s a case of deciding whether I want to take time off or push. It’s a fine balance really.
Lee Westwood has told us he writes down all his yardages on the sole of his clubs. Do you do something similar?
I keep loads of notes in my yardage book. I have various charts on my club dispersion. I write pretty much everything I can think of down. I’ve always been quite analytical. I’ve been keeping stats since I was about 14.
How much do you rely on technology in your practice?
Quite a lot. I use FlightScope, TrackMan and Foresight GCQuad. You name it, I’ve probably used it. I use technology for different things. If I’m doing a test from 100-150 yards, I’ll hit 10 shots and get a score which tells me how close I am to the target. Rather than just mindlessly hitting balls on the range, it provides an extra intensity to my practice which makes you play better on the course.
Is it true you’ve been using a platform created by Edoardo Molinari to help identify areas to work on?
Yeah, it’s called StatisticGolf. It’s basically a spreadsheet which lets you capture and track anything you want. Even things like wind direction or the speed of greens. It’s amazing really and Edoardo is one of the smartest guys I know. Because it’s on Excel, I can track whether I play better with an early tee time or grade how well I strike my chips from different types of grass.
I can also see whether I play better when I’m 50th versus when I’m inside the top 10. I’ve been doing it for over a year now – probably since the pandemic actually – so I’ve got all this data relating to my performance on different golf courses and everything. It’s still strokes gained but what you are tracking is different and far more in depth (than ShotLink). For instance, you can track how far you are from the centre of the fairway, or how far you are from your intended target.
You can get a strokes gained value to your target, as opposed to the pin, which is arguably more important because that’s where you are aiming. There’s loads of little things like that which help you to make those incremental gains and identify areas to work on.
Another good thing to come from the pandemic has been the UK Swing. How great is it to see events like the English Championship and UK Championship being added to the European Tour calendar?
It’s fantastic to be honest because we’ve got so many good golf courses in the UK. It’s just a real shame we don’t have more events here. UK fans are the best in the world, there’s no doubt about it.
Do you have any ambitions to host an event like the British Masters?
That is something I’ve thought about in the past, but there’s things I want to do for myself first. Danny Willett is a great example because he hosted it as a Major winner and I’m a long way off that right now.
As one of the first players to play the Ryder Cup course for 2023, what did you think to the changes at Marco Simone in Italy?
It was interesting because the greens were very good, but they haven’t quite bedded in yet because it’s a new golf course. There were a few putts which were a bit funky. I wouldn’t say any holes really stood out or blew you away.
There’s a lot of elevation changes and I found it difficult to enjoy the golf course because of how it was set up. It was in incredible condition so I can’t complain about that. I know they’re planning to do a lot of work still before 2023 so we’ll just have to see. I think it does need a handful of changes to improve the golf course.
At the start of 2020 you said pace of play is the worst it’s ever been on the PGA Tour. Has it improved and if not, what needs to happen to combat slow play?
I wouldn’t say it has really, no. You’re looking at five-hour rounds in threes. It’s just slow. It’s just playing with people who are not ready and that’s the problem. I like to get to my ball as fast as I can and take my time then.
It would be nice to see a few penalty shots handed out. The clock thing speeds people up but only for three holes, then the referee disappears, and it’s kind of back to normal. Unless they change the timings, I think it’s going to be slow for a while.
Is it better on the European Tour?
It’s a problem across all tours.
There are rumours that the PGA Tour are going to ban the use of green-reading books. Would you be in favour of that?
I’m more than happy about that! In my opinion, they don’t make good putters better. They just make bad putters OK… if that makes sense.
A lot of players, most notably Patrick Cantlay, have been quite outspoken about the format for the FedEx Cup play-offs. Do you like it or would you like to see another overhaul?
I’ll be honest, I felt I was hard done by going from 60th to 73rd to miss the second play-off. But I was not the worst case at all. The worst for me was Collin Morikawa. In my opinion, Collin has played the best golf all year.
He went into the play-offs ranked No.1 and didn’t even finish in the top 20 (he finished 26th). To me that is just ridiculous. I find it unfair. That’s taking nothing away from Patrick (Cantlay) because he obviously played fantastic for the final three weeks and I do believe that should be rewarded. But I think the extremity of how much good performances are rewarded in the play-offs is maybe a little bit too much.
Are you a fan of the Player Impact Program [the PGA Tour will identify the 10 biggest 'needle moving' players and compensate them], or does it feel overly contrived to you?
I don’t really get it myself. I kind of understand the concept with everything going on off the course and to help players out. But you could probably pick the 10 people who are going to win it. I know I’ve got no chance of winning it. I don’t have any problems with that but maybe the money could have gone back into prize funds or to help the Korn Ferry Tour.
Do you think it’s right that the PGA Tour will not be making public the winners of the $40 million bonus pool?
That’s a strange one. It’s like a secret club, isn’t it?
On the topic of the distance debate, would you be for or against having a different set of rules for amateurs?
No, a different set of rules and equipment wouldn’t be very good. I don’t want to come back to play with my pals and ask, ‘What are the rules?’ It’s a tough one because they are so many facts which say the ball is going further and players are hitting it longer in the professional game. I honestly don’t know what the answer is. You could have a debate forever.
Do you think we are in danger of stripping the creativity out of the game?
I think tournaments could set-up the golf courses better and we could go to courses with a better design. It wouldn’t make things more equal, but it would place a lot more on shot-making so people are fading it in to a right flag and then drawing it to a left flag. Speaking to my caddie, Billy (Foster), he feels the same way. He doesn’t see as many shots being made nowadays.
We were laughing actually at the BMW PGA Championship, playing with Justin Rose, and he hit this beautiful sliced driver around the corner of 18 on the first two days. It’s hard to do that with the ball nowadays. It’s not moving as much as it used to. Something does need to change.
Matt Fitzpatrick In Profile
- Having been introduced to the game by dad, Russell, joins the Hallamshire Golf Club in Sheffield as a nine-year-old.
- A sign of things to come as a 10-year-old Fitzpatrick enjoys his first taste of glory, winning the Hallamshire’s Junior Cup.
- Wins England Junior Team Championship with the Hallamshire at Woburn.
- Represents England in the Junior Team Championship at La Manga Club, Spain.
- Wins a host of junior and senior club competitions, including the Captain’s Cup, the Hallamshire Cup, Foursomes and the Club Championship at first attempt, aged just 13.
- Maintains his perfect record by winning his second Hallamshire Club Championship in only his second appearance.
- Dominates British Boys Amateur Championship at Hollinwell, winning 36-hole final 10&8.
- Wins third Hallamshire Club Championship.
- Sits A-levels in geography, history and PE, achieving grades B, C, C.
- Wins Silver Medal as leading amateur at the Open Championship finishing T44 at +10, five shots clear of Jimmy Mullen.
- Runner-up in English Amateur Championship.
- First Englishman to win US Amateur since 1911.
- Tops the World Amateur Rankings and wins McCormack medal.
- Enhances his stock by winning three of a possible four points for GB&I in their 17-9 Walker Cup defeat at National Golf Links, New York.
- Follows in Luke Donald’s footsteps by joining Northwestern University in Chicago.
- Records a win and top-three in first five events at Northwestern, but quits after just one term to focus on golf.
- Shoots a 71 (-1) in first round of Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, but misses cut after second round 81.
- Plays with Adam Scott and Jason Dufner on Masters debut, missing cut by one. Finishes T23 (-2) at RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.
- Aged 18, he becomes the first amateur since Bobby Jones in 1930 to hold low amateur titles at The Open and US Open at the same time.
- Announces plan to turn professional after US Open and signs for ISM. Makes pro debut at Irish Open at Fota Island.
- Broke through at the 2015 British Masters to claim his first European Tour title.
- Wins two more European Tour titles at the Nordea Masters and The DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
- Made his Ryder Cup debut in 2016, but failed to win a point in two matches as Europe slumped to a 17-11 defeat to the United States at Hazeltine.
- Wins the Omega European Masters in a play-off at the beautiful Crans-Sur-Sierre for his fourth European Tour title.
- Successfully defends his European Masters title, again winning a play-off, and became the first Englishman to earn five European Tour wins before turning 25.
- In his first season as a PGA Tour member, Fitzpatrick made 12 cuts from 15 starts and finished the season 36th in the FedEx Cup standings.
- In December, he won his second DP World Tour Championship and finished second in the Race to Dubai behind Lee Westwood. Victory sees him achieve a career high world ranking of 16th.
- Made his second Ryder Cup appearance for Team Europe, this time as part of the losing side at Whistling Straits, failing to take a point as Europe crashed to a record 19-9 defeat.
- After five top 10s during the season, Fitzpatrick bounces back from Ryder Cup disappointment to win the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama for his seventh European Tour title.