Pinehurst offers fitting finale as paid ranks beckon Fitzpatrick

Matt Fitzpatrick pumps his fist after making a birdie on the seventh hole during the final round of match play at the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline.  (USGA/John Mummert)
Matt Fitzpatrick pumps his fist after making a birdie on the seventh hole during the final round of match play at the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline. (USGA/John Mummert)
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There cannot be many cities in the world that have produced two world No 1 amateur golfers, but Sheffield is one that holds such a distinction.

First there was Danny Willett rising to the top of the apprentice game on the back of victories in Spain and at the English Amateur Championship, and an appearance in the 2007 Walker Cup.

Then six years later, Matt Fitzpatrick made an even greater footprint on the world of golf by winning the silver medal at the Open and then making history as the first English winner of the US Amateur.

They both tee off at the US Open at Pinehurst today, two young men flying the flag for the Steel City and amateur golf in Yorkshire.

Willett has yet to fully realise the enormous potential he showed when rising to the top of the world in the amateur ranks, but the 26-year-old has a win on the European Tour to his name and five consistent seasons under his belt.

His US Open debut this week is the fifth major appearance of his career, with a 15th place at last year’s Open hinting at his ability to stay the course in the game’s defining tournaments.

He was perhaps fortunate that when his passion became a job in the spring of 2008, he was able to progress relatively under the radar.

That is not a comfort blanket afforded Fitzpatrick.

The 19-year-old turns professional after this weekend, having declared earlier this month that he was foregoing part of the rewards he reaped last year to try and make a living out of the game.

The announcement was big news on both the European Tour, where he hopes to play in the near future, and the US PGA Tour, where he hopes ultimately to ply his trade.

Fitzpatrick’s progression is the most eagerly-anticipated since Justin Rose went from boy to man immediately after finishing fifth at Birkdale in the 1998 Open.

If Fitzpatrick need any advice on how to temper expectations, then Rose’s is a salient tale, for he promptly missed the first 21 cuts of his professional career.

The last laugh was his though. Today the two amateur sensations tee off alongside one another, Fitzpatrick as the US Amateur champion and Rose as the defending US Open champion.

The third member of the group is an American fellow by the name of Phil Mickelson.

“I’m looking forward to just watching them,” Fitzpatrick told The Yorkshire Post.

“It’s an exciting threeball and hopefully it’s an environment I can succeed in.

“Playing with Adam Scott and Jason Dufner at Augusta will stand me in good stead. Phil’s obviously got a few more majors than most so it might be a little different playing with him.

“I’ve played with Justin a couple of times and it will be good to play with him again because he’s very easy to get along with.”

Rose was one of the senior members of European golf Fitzpatrick sought out when he was facing the decision about when to turn professional.

So what did he ask?

“I just asked him about management companies, nothing else, just because he did it quite young and everybody knows his story,” said Fitzpatick.

“But it was just to get a feel for what a management company does for you, what doors they open.”

Fitzpatrick opted in the end for Chubby Chandler’s ISM stable, ahead of the big guns across the Atlantic, like IMG and Rose’ 4Sports Entertainment.

His first tournament as a professional is next week’s Irish Open, after which he has six more sponsors’ invites to take up before the end of the season.

The task is to win enough money to earn his European Tour card for next season – a tall order in such a short space of time and one that would require at least one top-five finish – otherwise it’s qualifying school in November.

But Fitzpatrick is not looking that far ahead. If anything, his confidence is so high he still hopes to qualify for next month’s Open at Royal Liverpool by winning either the Irish, French or Scottish Opens, or progressing through final qualifying.

Of the decision to turn pro, he said: “It was a tough one. I played Royal Liverpool last week and the course is looking fantastic, so I’m a little disappointed I might not get to the Open, but I have a few ways to qualify.

“How I performed at Augusta and Hilton Head (finished tied 23rd and would have won $33,000 had he been a professional) was a big factor.

“It would have been nice to defend the US Amateur but I’ve achieved all I can in that event.

“Things change and the opportunity I have now is pretty incredible. I’m now living the dream by becoming a professional golfer.

“I’m nervous about it, but I think I’m excited more than anything to start playing the tournaments and seeing how it goes.

“I got some fantastic advice off Thomas Bjorn after we played Royal Liverpool. He said to me that I just need to be patient, ‘you’re only 19 years old there’s no rush at this moment’.

“‘You’ll get your card eventually, just keep the team you’ve got around you and don’t get advice from anywhere else’.

“He was very positive towards me and I really appreciated that.”

Before then, Fitzpatrick has one last act as an amateur, the honour of playing alongside the defending champion and the people’s champion in one of golf’s most iconic, and exacting events.

“The US Open is my last stress-free tournament, so I’ll try and enjoy it to the max,” he said.