Ambitious Yorkshire rookie sets high ceiling

Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Matthew Fitzpatrick.
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Matt Fitzpatrick is refusing to put a cap on his ambitions for 2015 as he sets out on his first full season on the European Tour in South Africa today.

The 20-year-old former all-conquering amateur is one of a host of rookies taking their place in the field for the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.

Fitzpatrick earned playing rights on the top tour last month when he fought his way through 10 rounds of qualifying school in Spain.

The ambitions for most novices on the continent’s elite circuit is to merely hold their own and finish inside the top 110 golfers at the end of the season to retain their card.

But Fitzpatrick – who is the headline name in the rookie class of 2015 – sees no reason why he should not be shooting for a place in the top 60 and a shot at the lucrative season-ending Race to Dubai finale.

“For me it has to be the case that while I want to keep my card for next year, it is not what I should be aiming for, as I want to do well,” said the former US Amateur champion.

“You don’t want to think about just keeping your card, as it then becomes more like protecting a lead, playing safe, so you just want to go for it and play well.”

Having stated prior to the gruelling examination of qualifying school that he did not regret turning professional after the US Open in June, he now knows he has to continue justifying the hype surrounding his career.

His mature performance at the final stage last month – when he showed controlled aggression over six rounds and didn’t let his one poor round undermine his challenge – has fortified his belief that he belongs on the European Tour.

“It is definitely nice to validate the hype that has been around me over the last couple of years, and for me that is the really nice thing, to prove I can do it,” said the Hallamshire Golf Club member.

“Since I’ve turned pro it has perhaps been slow progress, and I made that one step, and now it is time to go to the next, and I’ll keep doing my best.”

With only six months and a dozen tournaments under his belt as a professional, travelling to the other side of the world as a fully-fledged member of the European Tour might be daunting for one so young.

But the world-wise Sheffielder, who this time last year was finishing his first semester at Northwestern University in Illinois, says he feels at home already.

“The travel is good, it can be tough at times, but you see new places and get well looked after. This is what I have wanted to be since I was young, so I’m not complaining,” he said.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have played on the European Tour, and Challenge Tour, and have therefore got good experience going into this season.

“It was different on the Challenge Tour and I have learned from that – like going out a day late to China, little things like that.

“It was the best grounding to help me start my professional career.

“I just want to get better in every aspect and am always trying to improve.

“Everyone always says the same things about me needing to get in the gym and get bigger, and I probably do. At the same time though, they played the Open de España at PGA Catalunya and I felt long enough playing in qualifying school there, albeit in different conditions.

“Getting my card has opened up a lot of doors, even just playing practice rounds with the best players in the world.

“Whether it be Justin (Rose) or Rory (McIlroy), you might get a chance to play with those guys, and I’m lucky enough to have a great management group that might sort me games with Lee (Westwood) or whoever it might be. I just need to keep learning and then take it from there.”

That management group – ISM – have already secured him invites into the bigger events in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Malaysia at the turn of the year.

Fitzpatrick is joined at Leopard Creek by fellow Sheffielder Danny Willett, fresh from his groundbreaking victory at the Nedbank Challenge last week which means he is the man atop the Tour’s embryonic order of merit.

Harrogate’s John Parry is also back on the European Tour having lost his playing privileges after a dire 2014 campaign.

He showed flashes of what he is capable of by finishing above Fitzpatrick to win one of the 25 cards on offer at qualifying school last month. Parry progressed to the weekend at this event last year before a run of 21 missed cuts damaged his season.

Hull’s Richard Finch is also in the field, at the start of his 11th season on Tour.