Fitzpatrick: From shy Sheffield schoolboy to US Open champion

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Matt Fitzpatrick is a Major champion, Ryder Cup player and world top-10 golfer. But back in 2014 a then 19-year-old Fitzpatrick had only just turned pro when he sat down with TG for his first interview after leaving golf’s amateur ranks.

While a lot has changed in the eight years since this interview, the Sheffield native’s victory at The Country Club at Brookline – the same venue where he lifted the US Amateur title in 2013 – felt like an appropriate time to revisit it.

The past year has been less of a whirlwind and more of a hurricane for Matt Fitzpatrick.

Rewind to June 2013 and you’d find him in a silenced Sheffield exam room trying to succeed in his A-levels. Twelve months later the 19-year-old is scheduled to play the US Open with Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.

The event represents his last as an amateur golfer with Fitzpatrick due to make his professional debut at the Irish Open at Fota Island on June 19.

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In-between there have been the small matters of winning the Silver Medal at the Open Championship, becoming the first Englishman in 102 years to win the US Amateur Championship, topping the World Amateur Rankings and a Masters debut that included practice rounds with Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter and two rounds alongside Major winners Adam Scott and Jason Dufner.

Phil Mickelson won the 2013 Open, while Matt Fitzpatrick took the Silver Medal as leading amateur.

And we shouldn’t forget the Walker Cup where, despite GB & Ireland’s heavy defeat, Fitzpatrick took three points from four. Or his T23 finish at the RBC Heritage – a result that would have earned him £33,000 as a pro. Little wonder then that he’s been snapped up by Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler’s International Sports Management – and not bad for a player who only started to take golf seriously in 2004.

Of course there have been tough moments. His Masters preparations were dealt a blow when caddie Lorne Matthews, suffering a long-term foot condition, was told he couldn’t wear sandals and a last-minute replacement had to be found. And his decision to quit Chicago’s Northwestern University, the institute where Luke Donald learned his trade, just one term into a four-year scholarship raised eyebrows throughout golf.

Sharing a laugh with Ian Poulter on his Masters debut in 2014.

TG caught up with England’s young star at his home club, the Hallamshire, to get his take on the highs, lows and future…

It’s been quite a year. How tough has it been to stay grounded?

I’ve got really good people around me. My family and girlfriend have been great and my dad is the first to wind me up and still tells me I’m rubbish.

Sometimes friends will talk about how amazing things have been and how much money I’m going to earn and my head gets a little bit bigger, but then other friends who I play with will quickly bring me back down to earth if I make a bogey or hit a bad shot.

What do you rank as your biggest achievement to date?

Matt Fitzpatrick celebrates his win at the 2013 US Amateur with brother Alex and his parents.

I think the US Amateur remains the biggest. Winning the silver Medal was pretty special and playing The Open was amazing but, no offence to the other guys, there were only seven other amateurs in the field, so the odds were far more favourable.

At the US Amateur there’s a huge field, it’s matchplay and a very long, intense week so I think it’s harder to win. I played really well, had my brother Alex on the bag and all my family were there so it was a really great experience.

What about your Masters debut?

Of course that was good. I really enjoyed the experience and Augusta’s a unique place but my goal was to make the cut and I didn’t achieve that. I don’t know if I’m setting standards too high because everyone was telling me how well I’d done, but I was really disappointed. I didn’t know the putt was to make the cut – I think I might have treated it differently if I had.

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You practised with Rory and played with Scott and Dufner at Augusta, and you play with Rose and Mickelson at Pinehurst. What do you learn from Major champions?

I took the chance to ask them a lot of stuff and talked to them about turning pro and their schedules and plans. I think it’s picking up on little bits, remembering when I’m practising or standing over a shot ‘oh, Adam did that here’, ‘Phil played this shot like that’, ‘Justin does this’.

The more experience the better because I’ve still only played in four pro events. I’m learning with each one and hopefully one day I’ll be as good as these guys.

Matt Fitzpatrick played a practice round with Rory McIlroy at the Masters in 2014.

Did their advice influence you turning pro?

I’d been discussing it with my family and coaches for quite some time, it was just about getting the timing right. I was very keen to play the US Open for the first time and to try and finish as leading amateur. Obviously it means I’ve lost my automatic place at the Open, but hopefully I could still qualify.

Will it be an easy transition?

It is a big step, but it’s the next step. It will be very different because there’s lots more matchplay in the amateur game and playing in the Majors or Tour events as an amateur means there’s not that much expectation. Now I’m effectively playing for my future. I’ll have seven invites this season and need some decent finishes to get my card. I’m also planning to play the Challenge Tour, which gives me another opportunity to achieve it.

Were your professional plans key to you leaving Northwestern?

I was just doing a lot of work and not playing as much golf as I’d like. I had to work really hard just to get the grades that I did and they weren’t that good anyway, so that was a little bit disappointing.

Matt Fitzpatrick won the leading amateur prize at the 2014 US Open, then turned pro.

But your dad, Russell, has spoken about the importance of a good education to fall back on. Did your success change that?

We looked at it that if golf doesn’t work out then I can go back to uni. I didn’t feel like I could turn down opportunities like playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and playing Harbour Town. Bay Hill was a fantastic experience, one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour and not something I’d have been able to do being at college.

You had many management companies chasing you. How instrumental was Chubby’s reputation for nurturing young talent in your choosing ISM?

Very. We’d had various people come and present to us and we thought things through carefully. I’m lucky to have my coaches Mike Walker and Pete Cowen just half-an-hour away. They know the game inside out and we spoke to them at every opportunity as well as sitting down and discussing it as a family.

Ultimately I chose ISM because I was impressed with how much they wanted to manage me. They have a proven track record of guiding the careers of young golfers and moulding Major champions so I am in good hands.

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Do your achievements increase the pressure for you going into the pro game?

I think there will be a little bit of expectation, but I’ve got to forget that, get my head down and play to the best of my ability. First and foremost I’ll be trying to get my card. I’ve got the invites to attempt to do that, but I know it’s going to be tough.

I’d love to do a Jordan Spieth, but equally I’d love to do a Tom Lewis – ultimately as long as I get a fairly decent card I don’t really care how I do it.

Last year’s Open Championship was your first taste of the biggest stage. What was your approach?

I didn’t even expect to be there so my only aim was to make the cut. My first pro event was a Major so it was a bit of a shock. There are a lot of guys who’ve played European Tour events beforehand and plenty who never even get to play an Open.

Matt Fitzpatrick won the Silver Medal at the 2013 Open Championship.

When did you start thinking about the Silver Medal?

It was in the back of my mind during the final round, but as we were walking down the 17th my dad was at the side of the fairway waving at me and repeatedly showing four fingers. My caddie was laughing and then telling dad to go away, but I knew he meant I had four shots. Thankfully I managed two pars and I think Jimmy (Mullen) dropped a shot so I finished five clear.

How was it standing next to Mickelson and Stenson and hearing Peter Dawson say your name?

It was a bit surreal. I remember looking at all the crowds around 18 and then I said something that made Henrik and Phil laugh. There’s a great picture of us all smiling, which I’d like to get hold of. Hopefully one day I’ll be up there again.

Let’s go back to the beginning. What does the Hallamshire mean to you?

I love coming back here. I’ve been a member for 10 years, more than half of my life, have received a lot of help and guidance here, do all of my practice here and I’ve enjoyed a lot of success here.

I enjoy seeing all the faces I know and people are really nice coming up to me and telling me how well I’ve done and asking me lots of questions. It can take me a lot longer to get out and hit some practice balls than it used to though!

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Talk us through a typical day’s practice.

I’ll get to the club at about 9am and I mix things up each day. On a Wednesday for example I’ll do bunker play for a couple of hours, putt for an hour, hit balls for two hours and then finish with some more putting.

Matt Fitzpatrick made his professional debut at the Irish Open in 2014.

Have you always felt destined to become a professional golfer?

No, not at all. Dad got me playing and then got me in here for junior coaching, but I’ve always felt like I’m behind everyone else and I’m striving to be as good as everyone else. In my mind it’s always been about setting a target – becoming the best player here, then playing for Sheffield and becoming the best there, then Yorkshire and England and so on.

Once I was world No.1 amateur it was a case of looking at the pros and thinking “right, now I want to be as good as you”.

You’re a dedicated Yorkshireman, but having spent time in America can you picture yourself there in the future?

Yes, I like the States a lot. I’ve been on a lot of holidays out there and always loved it and I’ve enjoyed my golfing experiences out there so far. I think in the long run I’d like to play PGA Tour and make that move but for now the priority is Europe and getting my card.

How have you relaxed and escaped the game during this incredibly hectic year?

I just go to the cinema, see my mates, play some social golf and spend time with my girlfriend, Amy. I’m not really into drinking or partying. I’m also a big Sheffield United fan. It’d be great to watch more games next season but I won’t complain if I can’t because it’ll mean I’m on Tour.

And as your success has increased have you started to be recognised?

It’s funny actually. We went to Alton Towers recently and while we were queuing these guys kept looking at me, then got their phones out and were saying ‘yeah, it’s him’ – they’d obviously done a quick Google search to check! Then later in the day I got a message on Instagram saying “we saw you at Alton Towers today, was great to see you”. It’s all new to me, Amy and my family and it’s just crazy, really crazy. People are really nice though; it will just take a little bit of getting used to.

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Matt Fitzpatrick with Adam Scott at the 2014 Masters.

MATT FITZPATRICK: IN THEIR WORDS

Chubby Chandler: “Matt’s conducted himself mightily impressively. He has the talent and temperament to achieve whatever he wants. We’re delighted to have the chance to help him do that.”

Adam Scott: “Augusta was very tough, but Matt seemed comfortable. He has a really good future.”

Rory McIlroy: “I was very impressed. He’s very solid, very steady and has a nice tidy short game.”

Justin Rose: “He’s a great guy, great player. I was very impressed with his short game. He has got great hands.”

Dan Walker, Hallamshire member and broadcaster: “What sets Matt apart is his dedication to practice and the fact he’s a thoroughly nice bloke.”

Bob Hill, Hallamshire secretary: “He’s a credit to his parents, a great club ambassador and remarkably grounded.”

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