Sports Hero: Overnight sensation Fitzpatrick humbled by Sports Hero award

Congratulations go to Sheffield’s amateur golfer Matt Fitzpatrick, the Yorkshire Post Sports Hero of 2013. He spoke to Nick Westby.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

When he looked down the list of contenders in this year’s search for Yorkshire’s Sports Hero, Matt Fitzpatrick still refused to accept that his name belonged.

“I saw Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, Nick Matthew, Steve Bruce – world champions and Premier League managers,” he said, “I thought I had no chance. So it came as a surprise to win it, I have to admit. It’s a real honour.”

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They are words that sum up a humble young man still coming to terms with all he achieved this summer.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

The silver medal for being the leading amateur at the Open would be enough to highlight any young man’s burgeoning career.

But to then go and end a century-long wait for an English winner of the US Amateur a month later, was another stratosphere entirely.

Fitzpatrick had become an overnight sensation. Suddenly he was instantly recognisable in the global golfing fraternity.

Even on his first day at Northwestern University in Illinois in September, regular people were recognising him as that fresh-faced teenager who mixed it with the big boys at Muirfield and then bested the finest apprentice golfers on the planet at Brookline – all with a smile on his face and ice in his competitive veins.

Sheffield golfer Matt Fitzpatrick is Yorkshire Post Sports Hero of 2013. (Picture: Scott Merrylees. SM1001/61c)

“People recognise me which is strange, I didn’t expect that at all,” said Fitzpatrick, back in the comfortable surrounds of Hallamshire Golf Club this week.

“If I’d have come to a university over here I don’t think many would. But because of the US Amateur, the recognition was more forthcoming and it made settling in a lot easier.”

Fitzpatrick returned home from his first three months in the States just last week, yet life for the 19-year-old shows no sign of slowing down. Presentation dinners, school visits and receiving this award have already cluttered his festive downtime, while tonight at Hallamshire, they are having a dinner in his honour.

A good number of those in attendance, and those who followed him at Muirfield in July, voted for him in our poll.

Fitzpatrick garnered 40 per cent of the vote, with readers citing his ability, integrity and work-rate as reasons for his nomination.

It is that work-rate that he is having to call upon now.

Life has been by no means plain sailing since he started out as a freshman in an American college.

It is nothing like the endless parties and chilling out on campus as depicted in the movies.

Fitzpatrick practices his golf for four hours a day, five days a week, then has tournaments to go to around the country.

He has won one of the five strokeplay events he has contested, a creditable return from a man marked out by opponents as one to beat.

Although that victory validated his status as the world’s leading amateur, his schoolwork – so exemplary back home – has not been as solid.

No matter how academically driven he is, he has found the sheer volume of schoolwork overwhelming and it has led him to question whether continuing down the road of a four-year course is the right one, given the lure of the professional ranks is so great.

Remaining amateur for the majority of 2014 is not up for debate, with a place in the Masters, US Open and Open fields his prize for winning the US Amateur. But beyond then, he is open-minded.

“With the school work being so hard I’ve been getting a bit down about it because I’ve been working so hard and not getting the grades,” he said. “I’ve not spoken to anyone about turning pro, but because of the year I’ve had it’s always going to be something that’s in the back of my mind.

“If I’d have not committed to college when I did, before the amazing year I’ve just had, then I wouldn’t be going to college this year. I’d have had a year out, done the majors, taken stock and maybe turned pro.

“I don’t regret going to college. But if the Masters goes amazingly well in April, it might be the case that I’d look to turn pro safe in the knowledge that I’d at least given college a go and tried to make it work out.

“I’ll just have to see what next year brings. I’d like to think I’ve got plenty of time and there isn’t a rush to do things. Hopefully things will work out.

“I’ll keep the team around me that I’ve got and just concentrate on working hard.”

Fitzpatrick is targeting being low amateur at any of the three majors he contests, and if he is still eligible, defending his US Amateur title. But that is next year. For now he can sit back and bask in the achievements of a truly wonderful 2013.

Our competition winner and recipient of two hospitality tickets to a day at the Headingley Test in June is Dave Johnson of Nafferton, Driffield. Award is sponsored by Jackson Trophies.