Famous friends help ‘rookie’ Fitzpatrick remain focused

Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick walks with Rory McIlroy at the Masters.
Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick walks with Rory McIlroy at the Masters.
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Sheffield United fan Matt Fitzpatrick will be gutted to miss his team’s FA Cup semi-final if he makes the cut on his US Masters debut this weekend.

But the 19-year-old can console himself with a trip to Wembley for the final if the Blades beat Hull on Sunday, all thanks to one of his new group of world-famous friends.

“I’ve been kindly invited, if they make it to the final, by Justin Rose,” Fitzpatrick told his pre-tournament press conference. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to take him up on that, but we’ll see.”

Fitzpatrick insists he has not been looking up flight schedules for Saturday morning in case he does miss the cut – “My dad’s done it as a joke” he said – and is focusing on making the most of an “amazing” experience.

As well as playing with US Open champion Rose 10 days ago, the teenager was invited to practice with former world No 1 Rory McIlroy yesterday and, as US Amateur champion, will partner defending champion Adam Scott and US PGA champion Jason Dufner in the first two rounds.

“I don’t think there is anything more amazing,” said Fitzpatrick, who was the leading amateur in the Open at Murifield last year before becoming the first English winner of the US Amateur sine 1911 a month later. “The course and the place itself is just fantastic. There’s nowhere in the world like it.

“Playing with Rory at 9.15 in the morning the crowd was massive, that was something new in a practice round for me, and to play with one of the best golfers in the world is incredible.

“He was such a nice guy, I couldn’t speak more highly about him. He was really helpful and would answer any questions I would ask him. His caddie asked if I want to play with him and it was a “yes” straightaway.

“The main thing he said to me was make sure you enjoy it. He said it’s tough not to get too caught up in everything, but you’ve just got to look around and put things into perspective and see where you actually are and just enjoy your time.

“For me, this could be once-in-a-lifetime so I’ve got to enjoy it while I can.

“Certainly I can’t say I’m looking to feel like I can win it, not playing with the guys I played with today, anyway! My aim is to just make the cut and push on from there really.”

Playing partner Scott has loftier ambitions as he looks to become only the fourth player to win back-to-back Masters titles, but the Australian can still remember being in Fitzpatrick’s shoes.

“For me, I got to play my first two rounds ever with Fuzzy Zoeller in the tournament, so he was whistling (walking) off the first tee,” Scott joked. “I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but it was certainly a little more light-hearted than I thought.

“Unfortunately for Matthew, I’m not going to be whistling off the first tee so he’ll have to find another way to calm down. I think he’s just got to enjoy the experience and hopefully it inspires him to keep working hard and come back many, many times.”

McIlroy, meanwhile, admits there will be no excuses if he does not give himself a chance to complete the third leg of a career grand slam this week.

McIlroy has won the US Open and the US PGA Championship and finished third in the 2010 Open at St Andrews, but his best finish at Augusta National remains a tie for 15th in 2011, when he led by four shots going into the final round but crashed to a closing 80.

Twelve months ago McIlroy arrived at the Masters on the back of a second-place finish in the Valero Texas Open which somewhat masked his struggles to adapt to new equipment, the 24-year-old having earlier walked off the course during his defence of the Honda Classic saying he was “in a bad place mentally.”

McIlroy also became embroiled in legal battles with his former management company and one of his sponsors, but eventually got his game back in shape and ended the year on a high with a victory in the Australian Open.

And a final round of 65 in last week’s Shell Houston Open meant the Northern Irishman was in high spirits as he discussed his chances of following in the footsteps of Adam Scott on Sunday.

“Mind, body, equipment, it’s all there. There’s no excuses,” said McIlroy. “There’s no excuses if I don’t play well this week.

“Everything’s in the right place to allow me to play well so it’s just a matter of managing my expectations, not getting ahead of myself, not thinking about Sunday when it’s Friday afternoon. Just really keeping myself in the present and in the moment and trying to take it one shot at a time and hopefully those shots add up to about 270 and I walk away with a green jacket.

“It’s just about not getting ahead of yourself and just letting all the practice and all the work that you’ve put in come out in your execution and just get out of your own way.

“I think you’re always excited to come back here. I really enjoy this tournament. I have no ill feelings towards 2011. I thought it was a very important day in my career.

“It was a big learning curve for me and I don’t know if I had not have had that day, would I be the person and the player that I am sitting here, because I learned so much from it.”