Matt Fitzpatrick will play numbers game after Christmas break

Matt Fitzpatrick celebrates after holing the final putt to win the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (Picture: Kamran Jebreili/AP).
Matt Fitzpatrick celebrates after holing the final putt to win the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (Picture: Kamran Jebreili/AP).
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SHEFFIELD’S Matt Fitzpatrick is determined to enjoy his Christmas holiday, which will span five weeks either side of the new year, as it is the longest break from golf he has had since his invasion of the upper echelons of the world amateur rankings.

He will take time to reflect on a year that has seen him prove both immediately and emphatically that his dazzling debut season was no fluke.

The former US Open amateur champion won the 2015 British Masters at Woburn in his first campaign on the European Tour.

While it acted as a release valve in terms of earning him a two-year exemption on tour as a champion it also ramped up the pressure on his young shoulders by catapulting him into public consciousness as an immediate front-runner in the Ryder Cup qualifying stakes.

He had only just turned 21 and many a young European Tour player in the past has been unable to back up a promising start, receding instead into the wings after a brief period as a star.

Not only did the former Yorkshire Union player quicky match his feat of last year by winning, in this case the Nordea Masters, but he provided a finishing gloss – worth the not inconsiderable sum of €1.2m – by triumphing in the season’s closing event, the DP World Tour Championship, in Dubai.

It meant he placed sixth overall for the season, a standing that accrued a $350,000 bonus.

And all this on top of making his debut in both the Ryder Cup and EurAsia Cup.

Yet it is a measure of both his ambition and his level-headed approach to earning his living with his clubs that the new year will begin with an in-depth look at the past season’s statistics to see where he went wrong and how he can improve still further.

Father Russell will help him in a period of number-crunching, the main aim of which will be to try to pinpoint why – on occasions – he does not make the fast start required to be an immediate contender in a tournament.

“My dad is quite a numbers person and will help me go through the stats,” Fitzpatrick told The Yorkshire Post.

“I think, with the off-season, you can be a bit more thorough with what you’re looking for.”

Obviously, like all his fellow competitors, Fitzpatrick’s aim is to try his utmost from his opening tee shot to go low in a tournament.

So what might he be able to pinpoint by sifting through, in painstaking detail, the evidence of a season that, on the face of it, was immensely successful?

After all, it netted him two wins and a total of €2,715,297 in European Tour prize money.

“For instance, one thing my trainer might want to look at is the stats for the first six holes, middle six holes, and last six holes,” he responds. “He’ll be able to see if, maybe, I am getting tired and need to eat more and do a bit more cardio – or whatever it might be to improve.”

Any changes will apply to his pre- and post-round itinerary as well as during play as the 22-year-old looks to build further on the solid foundations he has laid in place in just two years as a tournament professional.

“For some reason, I just kept getting off to slow starts,” he reflects, “or certainly I was doing nothing that was getting me into the top 30 after the first round, which is where you need to be.

“That is a big thing; if you can get off to a fast start and get three or four under, well for me personally it puts me in a position where I can really challenge for the rest of the week.

“There were a couple of times when I was battling to make the cut and I managed to squeeze a top-10 finish out of it, which was obviously very good, but I’d prefer to give myself a better chance from the first round.”

With typical modesty, he deflects praise for his achievements in 2016, again preferring to look at areas where he did not produce his best in order to rectify any flaws and climb to the next plateau where, as a consistent tournament winner, he can put possible major triumphs within view.

“On paper it is a lot better than my first year, but I guess it’s the way golf is that, in the middle of the season, I didn’t play great,” he comments, adding: “And at the start of the season I wasn’t playing great either

“So it was just a bit up-and-down and I think a lot of it was to do with the panic of trying to make that Ryder Cup team. I think that may have had something to do with it.

“But the win (in Dubai) – literally there isn’t a better way to finish the season, is there?”

As part of addressing possible fitness and stamina issues, Fitzpatrick will discuss with his management firm, Chubby Chandler’s ISM, a schedule that is tailored to ensure he stands on the first tee of a Thursday distanced from the clutches of mental and physical exhaustion.

“I have had a couple of times at the back end of the year where I’ve woken up and not really known where I am,” he says.

“But at least I am lucky in that I don’t probably sleep any better in my own bed than in a hotel bed.”

Fitzpatrick’s triumph in Dubai, when he holed a birdie putt at the last to leapfrog erstwhile leader Tyrrell Hatton, who bogeyed it, wiped a record bearing Sir Nick Faldo’s name from the history books.

It made the Yorkshireman the youngest player to win three times on the European Tour.

Faldo reflected on both the achievement and his usurper’s fresh-faced looks on his Twitter feed.

“Nick said that he had stuff in his larder that is older than me,” laughs Fitzpatrick.

Having surpassed this particular landmark of a man who went on to win three Opens and three Masters, might the next goal be to mirror some of Faldo’s major triumphs?

The chuckle that is seldom far from the Sheffielder’s lips resurfaces.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” he smiles.

“I wasn’t aware before of Nick Faldo’s record, but it is a very nice achievement to have.”

Last year Fitzpatrick placed seventh in the Masters when his fellow Yorkshireman Danny Willett triumphed.

The first major of every season, Augusta will give him his next opportunity to step his career up to an exalted level and he will be armed in April with both increased course knowledge and and the confidence born of a top-10 placing.

But is not inhabiting his thoughts at the moment.

“The Masters is one that I am really looking forward to, just purely because of how great the event is,” he says.

“It is such a special place and to have a good year there last year, it will give me confidence going in to it this time – but I have got to admit, I’m not really thinking right now about goals and stuff.

“The five weeks off will be purely doing nothing for a bit and then re-evaluating.”

The storm caused by the now infamous article written by Willett’s brother, Pete, cast a shadow over Fitzpatrick’s Ryder Cup bow, as it did over all 12 European combatants and the Masters champion in particular.

Even so, while reflecting on the impact of a piece that fanned the flames of home partisanship, Fitzpatrick still takes positives from the week.

“There is no doubt about it that I think you can ask the four guys who only played one game before the singles (like himself) that they were all disappointed to play only one game,” he says.

“But we were obviously part of a team and (captain) Darren (Clarke) thought that was the right thing to do.

“He thought the other players should try and get the points and that is what Darren did.

“If we had all played one game and won we would all have been very happy people.

“I think we all back our own ability and you do want to be out there yourself playing and really trying to help the team.

“I hope in the years to come I will get a few more opportunities to play Ryder Cup, but as an experience overall it was fantastic and I loved every minute of it – being with the team and with the captain and vice captains.”

He concedes he did not suffer the level of vitriol poured out in Willett’s presence. But perhaps his afore-mentioned youthful visage made him less of a target.

“I was very fortunate in that aspect,” says Fitzpatrick who, when asked in the aftermath of the Ryder Cup what was the worst thing said to him, responded: “I was stood on a tee eating a sandwich and a guy yelled out, ‘Hey, Matt, did your mom cut the crusts off for you?’.

“I do have to admit that Danny’s brother’s article changed things because Darren then decided to change his team last minute; there were a few alterations.

“It was obvious that after the article came out it was never going to be a good thing for us.

“It was a shame it happened, but we move on.”

Although not for the next few weeks as he puts his feet up with his family – dad, mother Susan and younger brother Alex - and stays put for a festival break that is well deserved.