Fitzpatrick will continue education after learning process at Muirfield

OPEN silver medal winner Matthew Fitzpatrick says he intends to continue his education on and off the course by resisting any overtures to turn professional.

Matthew Fitzpatrick, right, walks off the 18th with USA's Fred Couples

Past leading amateurs such as Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy moved into the paid ranks shortly after breaking through at the Open, with the former doing so within a matter of days.

Yet all throughout a week in which Fitzpatrick has enjoyed sharing the limelight with the best golfers in the world, the 18-year-old Hallamshire Golf Club member has epitomised a young man with his feet on the ground.

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All summer he has been preparing to head to Northwestern University, near Chicago, in the first week of September to begin a four-year golf scholarship.

And even after confirming his status as the best amateur at Muirfield by beating Jimmy Mullen by five shots in the race for the silver medal, Fitzpatrick remained steadfast in his plan.

“Going to university is the big thing, and Mum and Dad make sure education comes first, rather than the golf,” he said.

“So I’ll make sure I’ll do my four years at Northwestern and get a good degree, hopefully. It’s something to fall back on if the golf doesn’t work out.

“You never know what could happen. I’m definitely not going to turn pro anytime soon.”

Fitzpatrick rounded off a memorable experience by shooting a best-of-the-week 72 to add to the 73 on Saturday after his seven-over-par total from the opening two days had been enough for him to make the cut.

He was level with Devon’s Mullen, 19, going into the weekend but easily outlasted the elder teen who fired successive rounds of 75.

As well as winning the silver medal – one of the most prized possessions in the amateur game – it also confirmed to the Sheffield youngster that he belongs in such elite company.

“I’m really proud,” said Fitzpatrick, who played with one of the game’s legendary figures, Fred Couples, yesterday.

“What it showed me is I can sort of compete with these guys.”

Fitzpatrick played with a quartet of Americans, from Jordan Spieth and Russell Henley on the first two days, to Bo Van Pelt on Saturday and the former Masters winner yesterday.

“The big thing for me was Fred Couples hit putter from everywhere,” said Fitzpatrick of what he had learned.

“He must have holed two from off the green. He putted fantastic.

“That’s the difference. They hole the long ones. And that’s not quite where I am. I’ve holed one (yesterday), so it was a nice bonus.

“I think Fred’s a great player. He’s much better than I thought he was, from what I’ve seen.

“Not that I thought he was poor at all, but he strikes it so well.

“And for me the big thing is he’s just got such a free-flowing swing.”

As well as being a life-affirming experience, it was also an eventful week for the young man, who only finished his A-levels six weeks ago.

Last Monday he was mistaken for Tiger Woods’s ball boy on the range and was also asked to show his credentials in the clubhouse by stewards.

His youthful looks and absence of sponsored regalia such as the ubiquitous golfer’s cap added to the belief that this was indeed a boy among men.

He was supported enthusiastically throughout the week by members of Hallamshire and also the players he competes alongside in the Sheffield union and Yorkshire amateur teams.

And he was guided around the treacherous East Lothian links by experienced caddie Lorne Duncan, who helped Tom Lewis to the silver medal at St George’s two years ago. Fitzpatrick said: “If anything, I’ve learned from my caddie. Duncan’s caddied for some great players in his time.

“He had to come out of retirement for me. Just learning how to plot my way around the golf course really, I’ve learned a lot about that. I’ll definitely take that to other events.”

Before he relocates to America, Fitzpatrick hopes to get the chance to speak with Northwestern alumnus Luke Donald about what to expect from life in the Collegiate system.

He has the English Amateur and US Amateur championships to come in the next month, before the possibility of a Walker Cup spot in the week when he should be arriving at Northwestern.

Fitzpatrick has played down his chances of getting into the British and Irish team for the famous amateur duel with the United States, but surely after this week he cannot be overlooked.

Before then, reality will hit home for the young Yorkshireman.

“How am I celebrating tonight? Probably a long four-and-a-half-hour drive home,” he smiled.

“But I don’t know, I’ll probably do something next week. Nothing too stupid.

“There’s so many things I can remember. I just had a great time. I’d probably say the highlight 
for me (yesterday) was on 16, holing the long putt with everyone surrounding the green was just great.

“It’s just a great feeling when you do hole the putt from a long way, anyways.

“I think I’ll have a few days off. And then sort of let it all settle down a bit.

“But I can’t imagine it will. I think I’ll be on my phone too much.

“I think I’ll have a break and get back to practising, just seeing where my game is at again and just take it from there, really.

“But one thing I would say is probably I can’t imagine any other amateur event ever being as hard as the course we’ve played this week.

“The fairways are just so narrow and the rough is just ridiculously deep.”

Of his one-over par 72 yesterday, which included birdies on nine, 12 and 16, he said: “It went pretty steady. There wasn’t much that went too wrong.

“I did have a double bogey in there again (14th), which I probably need to cut out.

“I could do with just cutting those out and I would have been a few shots better this week.

“But I played nicely, probably the best I played all week and I’m really happy.”

Asked about the myriad memories he will take from the week, Fitzpatrick added: “Seeing Tiger (Woods) on the range, for him to be so near was like one of the best things ever.

“It has been surreal, especially with the guys I’ve played with. I’ve said it a lot, but every single person I played with couldn’t have been nicer to me.

“They’ve all been great guys to me. I really appreciate that.

“And the golf club (Hallamshire), I think they’re all very happy for me, really proud.

“I think I’m a bit more popular because they managed to move the TV from the bar to the main lounge – which has been a problem for a while.”