It was well established during his return to The Country Club on Monday that firm, fast greens do not bother Matt Fitzpatrick. Green beans, well, that’s another story.
Fortunately, the England-born PGA Tour player only has to contend with one of these at this week’s 122nd U.S. Open at The Country Club, a place where the greens have treated him well. Fitzpatrick is among the players mentioned as potential favorites this week on the strength of his victory here in the 2013 U.S. Amateur Championship.
Fitzpatrick was 18 years old when he defeated Oliver Goss of Australia, 4 and 3, to become the first Englishman since Harold Hilton in 1911 to capture the Havemeyer Trophy. He turned professional a year later, but not before finishing as low amateur in The Open Championship (2013) at Muirfield and in the U.S. Open (2014) at Pinehurst. Bob Jones happens to be the last player to enjoy low-amateur honors in those two championships simultaneously.
There are many good memories here for the player who seeks his first professional win in America but owns seven victories on the DP World Tour (formerly the PGA European Tour). Among those is sharing the win with his younger brother Alex, who at 14 served as his caddie. Alex might not have been as young as Eddie Lowery, the 10-year-old who caddied for Francis Ouimet in that historic 1913 U.S. Open victory here – over two British greats in Harry Vardon and Ted Ray – but the symmetry was unmistakable.
It's all part of an enchanted storyline that awaits a new chapter.
“I remember everything,” Fitzpatrick said with a smile that revealed the braces he wears on his teeth, making him look younger than his 27 years. “I've been back a few times since and love coming back here. Obviously, love having my family here the whole week and having my brother on the bag was really special, so yeah, it was just great memories.
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“It's a memory that will live with me forever,” he added, referring to his brother’s help that week. “I can't believe it's nine years ago really. It's crazy how fast it's gone.”
Crazier still is the one memory he has of Alex that week. “I just remember in particular I think it was the semifinal, he left my wedge by the first green,” said Fitzpatrick, who befriended a local police officer who retrieved it for him.
Fitzpatrick said he is a different player than the one who triumphed here in 2013. Sort of. As he explains it: “If I look back at my game nine years ago, I would say I'm the same player but a very different player. My strengths are still my strengths, but they've just got better in my opinion.”
Those strengths are driving and putting. On the PGA Tour he ranks 10th and 22nd, respectively, in those two disciplines, which are always important skill sets to a golfer but particularly useful in the U.S. Open. Not surprisingly, though he has not had a top-10 finish in the championship in seven tries (his best effort is T-12 in 2019 at Pebble Beach), the U.S. Open presents the best examination, in his opinion.
“I do probably prefer the U.S. Open setup the most, because I just love how tough they tend to get the golf courses,” said Fitzpatrick, who is No. 18 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “Particularly, I know it … didn't get the best reviews, but I thought it was fantastic, was Shinnecock in 2018. I thought it was absolutely unreal. You had to know where to hit it and where not to hit it, and that's the point of a practice round, and when players were complaining about that it was obvious that they didn't do their homework.
“That's what I like about the USGA, when they set up golf courses they set them up tough, and normally the best player wins during that week.”
Adding to Fitzpatrick's optimism is his play of late that features three top-10 finishes in his last four events, including T-5 at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. In April, he tied for 14th at the Masters.
“I feel like I'm playing well. I feel like I just made so many mistakes last week [at the RBC Canadian Open, where he finished T-10], just simple bogeys that you clear them up and all of a sudden you're picking up a lot of shots. Those things, you clean them up and pick up another couple of shots, and before you know it, you're winning. It's just about trying to keep doing the same thing, keep doing what I've been doing all year, and yeah, I'm looking forward to it.”
The welcoming vibes he feels at The Country Club extend to off the course. This week, he is staying with the same family that put him up during the U.S. Amateur in 2013. Will and Jennifer Fulton have become good friends (Will is actually the club’s general chairman for the U.S. Open), and Fitzpatrick has visited them several times since then. He has also had a chance to play The Country Club a few times as well to bolster his familiarity with the historic layout.
The Fultons even invited him to what was his first Thanksgiving dinner one year, while he was attending Northwestern University. Though he now lives primarily in the U.S. to compete on the PGA Tour, Fitzpatrick isn’t a fan of the November American holiday and the traditional feast that accompanies it. You can take the kid out of Sheffield, England, which he still lists as his home, but you can’t put certain food elements in him.
“I don’t really like Thanksgiving food. It’s not for me,” he said, scrunching up his face. “Green beans … worst thing ever invented.”
But the U.S. Amateur, that went down smoothly. His victory enabled him to get a taste of major events. It set up his career. “I think for me sort of looking back, winning the U.S. Amateur, all of a sudden it opens up all these doors. I never realized how big of a deal it was over here until after winning,” he said.
“I think looking at what I've achieved, I think sometimes maybe I don't give myself enough credit for what I have done, but my personal opinion, I'm always trying to get better, I'm always trying to do things better and find ways I can improve,” he added. “I think for me, if someone had told me I'd be stood here and this is what I've achieved and done, I would have snatched their hand off.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.