Matt Fitzpatrick’s new season starts but end of year is his focus

TECHNICALLY, Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick will be playing in his first event of the 2016 European Tour today when he tees it up in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, in Sun City, South Africa.

British Masters champion Matt Fitzpatrick is to treat his family to a holiday in Florida (Picture: AP).

Mentally, he will be playing the penultimate event in his first full year as a tournament professional before taking his family on holiday to Florida.

Next week’s Thailand Championship, at Amata Spring Country Club, in Chonburi, will bring down the curtain on a year in which the 21-year-old has thrust himself onto centre stage.

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Besides winning his first tournament, the British Masters at Woburn, he has also had 10 top-10 finishes – a record for a rookie on Tour – breached the €2m mark in prize-money and earned a place in Darren Clarke’s team for the EurAsia Cup, to be played at Glenmarie G&CC in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from January 15-17.

Cataloguing his achievements is almost exhausting in itself, so it is no surprise to learn that they took a physical toll on him before he spent a week at home recuperating and recharging his batteries.

Asked if he would have preferred not to lay his clubs aside after carrying his Woburn form on through the autumn – his last six tournament finishes read 1-3-26-7-13-4 – the former US Open champion replied: “Yes and no. If I’m honest, in the last round at Dubai (in the DP World Tour Championship) I started bogey-birdie-bogey and I thought that was it, I thought I’d hit a wall.

“I couldn’t get anything going and I realised I was ready for some time off.

“Five tournaments in a row is the most I’ve done for a long while now.

“I was definitely ready for some time off and it’s been nice to have a bit of time at home.”

His tournament inactivity saw him slip one place in the world rankings, to 48th.

Staying inside the top 50 come the end of the year will earn him an invite to play in the first major of the year, the Masters at Augusta.

He also lies second, to Rory McIlroy, in the current Ryder Cup standings, and commented: “Playing in the Ryder Cup is definitely the (long-term) goal, but top-50 right now is the one thing on my mind – stay in the top 50 at December 31 and then I’ll be playing Augusta next year, which would be a great thing to do.

“Two more final good weeks and then I’ll have finished the year on a high.”

Then it will be off to Doral with father Russell, mother Sue and younger brother Alex – where the British Masters champion will play some really serious golf with the honour of being acclaimed the best golfer in the household at stake.

“I’ll not play much, but I’ll play a little bit,” he said. “My mum does play, but not at the moment as she has injured a hand.

“She’ll come round with us – it’s karts, which makes life easier.

“We’re all looking forward to it and I’m sure it will be a great time.”

Danny Willett, a fellow Sheffielder, will defend the Nedbank Golf Challenge title at Sun City. It was one of two victories in a season that saw him finish second to Race to Dubai winner McIlroy.

Charl Schwarzel will look to make it two wins in succession in his homeland after winning last week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship.