Ryder Cup: Matt Fitzpatrick trades armchair for call to arms

Sheffields Matt Fitzpatrick watches the flight of his tee shot on the second hole during a practice session yesterday ahead of the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, in Minnesota (Picture: Peter Byrne/PA).
Sheffields Matt Fitzpatrick watches the flight of his tee shot on the second hole during a practice session yesterday ahead of the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, in Minnesota (Picture: Peter Byrne/PA).
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TWO years ago, Matt Fitzpatrick was one of millions of golfers glued to their TV sets for three days of compelling action from Gleneagles as Europe defeated the United States to retain the Ryder Cup.

It would be disingenuous to say that he was as far removed from being involved as a player as the rest of us who looked on and marvelled at the sporting theatre placed before us.

After all, the Sheffielder had, the year before, become the first Englishman to win the US Amateur title in over a century.

This not only opened the gates to Augusta the following Spring, and a place in the 2014 Masters, but also gave him the code to the locker room at Pinehurst in June of that year where he finished as the lowest-placed amateur in the US Open field – the same feat he had achieved the previous July in the Open at Muirfield.

It made him the first person to hold concurrently the medals for low amateur at both the Open and US Open since the legendary Bobby Jones. Exalted company, indeed.

And yet, having turned professional immediately after his final round at Pinehurst, the key to entering the European Tour was not proferred on a silver platter because of his two silver medals.

He would have to earn that two months later via the penultimate and final stages of Qualifying School.

Fast forward to this week, and the Hallamshire member is one of six newcomers in the European team that will look to triumph at Hazeltine, in Minnesota, as is his fellow Sheffielder Danny Willett.

“Two years ago I was watching the Ryder Cup at home and I did not even have any status on the European Tour,” mused Fitzpatrick, “and now I’m in the team.

“I don’t think it has been a case of that sinking in; the feeling has been more about how excited I am.

“It is a similar feeling – and yet a different feeling – from the one when you win.

“Obviously I’m looking forward to something whereas when you win it’s in the past, it is something you have done. But I’m really excited for the week itself – it is going to be very special.”

He has sampled that winning feeling not once but twice in his first two full seasons on Tour, which propelled him from his lounge armchair in 2014 to a first class seat in the 2016 European team’s flight to Minnesota.

Fitzpatrick was talked about as a Ryder Cup prospect from the minute he made his breakthrough by winning the British Masters at Woburn, seemed a cert when he added the Nordea Masters title, and was confirmed last month as one of nine players who had earned their place automatically.

The week after he was put under the microscope for the first time as a Ryder Cup player when, in the European Masters at Crans, he produced four birdies in the last five holes to make the weekend’s play.

To an outsider it appeared like the perfect way of avoiding any possible negative scrutiny in view of his new-found status – to the former Yorkshire county player it was simply a way of making the cut.

“My attitude didn’t change that week,” he said. “I didn’t think that because I’m a Ryder Cup player I needed to do well – that is not me as a person.

“I just got off to an unlucky start in the first round and I was five over through five and yet I hadn’t really hit that many bad golf shots.

“It was incredibly satisfying that Friday night to be on the (qualifying) mark having made four birdies in five holes, but that was simply because it meant I had made the cut.”

Fitzpatrick was paired successfully with Ryder Cup veteran Lee Westwood by Darren Clarke when Europe won the EurAsia Cup at the start of the year, this after a defeat alongside Masters champion Willett.

He says he will be happy to play alongside anyone of Clarke’s choosing in the fourballs and/or foursomes although his personal preference, if met, would see him placed in tandem with former US Open and US PGA champion Martin Kaymer.

“I have got pretty close with Martin over the past few months,” said Fitzpatrick, who watched on TV four years ago as the German holed the winning putt in the ‘Miracle at Medinah’.

“We get on very well and he is certainly someone I would like to play with. We are similar sort of characters; we go about our business quietly, we work hard, and we get on well.”

Fitzpatrick is not the only member of his family to earn international honours this year, with his 17-year-old brother Alex having represented England several times, including when they won the Boys’ Home International title at Donegal.

Given Matt’s meteoric rise from top amateur to Ryder Cup player – and the fact that Alex is spoken of highly at both county and national level as a player with exceptional technique and temperament – it is not inconceivable that there could be two empty chairs in the Fitzpatricks’ lounge come Ryder Cup time a few years down the line.

“That would be great,” said the senior of the two. “Alex is doing well and he works really hard. Who knows, it could happen.”