If you see a two-ball of Matt Fitzpatrick with Dustin Johnson (or perhaps Rory McIlroy, or Brooks Koepka) you might think that the former would be the man down in the driving yards stakes.
Yet Fitzpatrick outdrove DJ in the US Open at Brookline in June 2022, and has bettered all the others in yardage, to the point where ball speed and distance are putting trophies in the cabinet, as evidenced by his debut major victory at the US Open in June 2022.
“One of my targets for this season was to try to reach the distances of some of my big rivals,” begins Matt Fitzpatrick.
“It’s been somewhat like a training programme, and the results certainly haven’t come overnight – it has taken a lot of patience, practice and praying!” he laughs.
“The good news is it has started to bear fruit, and I think people who watched the US Open (especially on the Friday) are seeing it.
“On Sunday, playing with and against Will [Zalatoris] in the final group, I was always confident that I was going to be playing second, meaning that I was driving my ball past his. That’s down to the ball speed.”
Practice For Continual Gains
Matt’s younger brother Alex was frequently pictured on the TV feeds during that final round at The Country Club, along with their mum Susan and dad Russell. All were in the frame as the elder son lifted the trophy.
Alex Fitzpatrick is a very handy golfer himself, and has now embarked on his professional career, beginning with the Irish Open at the end of June.
The most junior of the Fitzpatrick clan has previously spoken of his brother’s drive for continual improvement: “Matt has given me such an insight into how you need to keep evolving and improving, and that all starts with practice.”
If you want to be good at anything, you’ve got to put the long hours in – luck will only get you so far
Matt Fitzpatrick, four years older, agrees: “Once you stop practicing, it becomes harder to improve. Obviously, things happen differently on a course than they do at the range or the practice facilities, but muscle memory can’t always be relied upon.
“If you want to be good at anything, you’ve got to put the long hours in. Luck will only get you so far and talent is something everyone has in golf, or those guys wouldn’t be on the [PGA] Tour to start with.
“So, making sure I put everything together with my own game to try to close that gap on the best players is my part of the bargain.”
Beware The Underdog
It certainly worked for Fitzpatrick in winning his maiden major title. He is the latest in a long line of players, both male and female, who are discovering that hitting the ball longer, straighter and faster, can bring the ultimate reward.
While Fitzpatrick looks for support from his family, he looks to other sports for inspiration, and while blades is a word familiar to golfing fans and players, it’s also apt as the nickname of Fitzpatrick’s favored football club, Sheffield United.
The Yorkshire side, who play in the second tier of English football, have experienced joy and despair over the last few years in equal measure, not unlike Fitzpatrick himself.
This was behind an almost sarcastic remark from Fitzpatrick after he triumphed at Brookline: “As I said in an interview just after picking up the trophy, I wasn’t wanting to compare my own fortunes with the football club I love, but it did seem a little similar to how some critics see them,” he says.
“Neither of us have been predicted to succeed and we’ve been able to prove those doubters wrong. It’s not having a go at those who haven’t expected me to do well, but it’s just nice to win from almost off the radar.
“When things like this happen, it’s nice to see that what I’ve been doing to make that improvement necessary is also being seen by others. It’s real and it’s taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears. When it results in winning majors, I know I’m doing the right things.”
The Strength To Recover From Disaster
Of course, every player retains the right to hit a bad shot at any time and no matter the amount of work that’s gone into the preliminaries. Even the best will find themselves in precarious positions around the course.
That’s exactly what happened to Fitzpatrick on the 72nd hole of a taxing and tiring four days. His 272nd shot of the week, a tee shot, ended in a fairway bunker – and the sand is not a favorite place of his.
However, in what has been ranked as one of the greatest shots in US Open history, Fitzpatrick splashed his golf ball out, flying it around 160 yards to the center of the green, two-putted, and won by one shot.
These tiny amounts are the margins we deal with on a daily basis as golfers
“When I saw that tee shot go left and eventually into the fairway bunker on 18, I just looked almost helplessly at Billy [Foster, his caddie],” Fitzpatrick admits. “From where the tee box is, it wasn’t possible to see where it landed.
“But when we realized it was in there, with a decent lie, and that little island of grass just in front of the ball, I knew I had to pick the ball and hit a good shot to get onto the green.
“Those are the margins – sometimes that same shot will land a few feet left and in some deeper sand, or with an obscured view. It’s fractions of millimeters from your tee shot that accentuate themselves as the ball travels down the course, and these tiny amounts are the margins we deal with on a daily basis as golfers… of all abilities, up and down the country.
I’m really proud of Alex and it’s great having my bro traveling with me – we have a healthy competitive streak between us
“Thankfully, when I heard the crowd roar in appreciation of my second shot, I knew then the chance of winning was still there. There is no bigger relief in sport.”
Something tells us that it won’t be too long before we see the beaming faces again of the Yorkshireman’s parents. The only thing that’s in doubt is which son will be lifting the trophy, with a new kid on the block.
“I’m really proud of Alex and it’s great having my bro traveling with me. We have a healthy competitive streak between us but are each other’s biggest fans too, and I think that’s possibly the best combination you can ask for in a rivalry.”
WHAT NEXT? Watch every televised shot of Matt Fitzpatrick’s final round in the US Open, 2022.
Photos: Shutterstock/ REX