Alex Fitzpatrick carving out a name for himself in the Walker Cup

Great Britain and Ireland’s Walker Cup team had a surprise visitor on Monday as they began fine-tuning their preparations for the 48th playing of amateur golf’s defining team event at Seminole Golf Club in Florida this weekend.

On course: Barclay Brown, Mark Power, and Alex Fitzpatrick walk down the 18th hole during practice at Seminole Golf Club. (Picture: R&A Media / Getty Images)

Matt Fitzpatrick, a member of the 2013 team beaten by the United States in upstate New York, came to walk the course at Seminole with the 10 men charged with wresting the Walker Cup back from American clutches.

He gave a bit of feedback as well, talked boys and men not much younger than him through what to expect of a Walker Cup examination.

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“I knew he was coming,” laughs Matt’s younger brother Alex, who at 22 is already playing in his second Walker Cup.

Action replay: Alex Fitzpatrick tees off during the 2019 Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake.

“I’d like to think I have more experience in the Walker Cup than my brother does, seeing as he only played one.”

Alex was part of the team two years ago beaten by the United States at Royal Liverpool. He is also the only member of this year’s 10-man selection to have played Walker Cup golf.

Where Matt’s career accelerated in that golden spell of 2013/14 when he won the US Amateur, the silver medal at the Open and US Open as well as playing in the Walker Cup before turning professional, Alex is spending a little longer in the amateur ranks.

Matt left his scholarship at Northwestern after only a few months because the professional game was drawing him in, such was his dominance in the unpaid ranks.

Rotherham's Ben Schmidt: In the side.

Alex, though, has stayed in school and is in the third year of his scholarship to Wake Forest in North Carolina.

He has racked up two wins on the circuit, most recently at the Valspar Collegiate event which earned him entry into the Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour last weekend.

There are some within Yorkshire golf circles who say Alex is the better golfer of the two Fitzpatricks.

If he is, then he will have to go some to match his brother, who turned that haul of amateur accolades into a springboard to claim six wins on the European Tour, a top-10 in a major championship, a Ryder Cup appearance and a consistent position inside the top 50 in the world.

Advice: Matt Fitzpatrick. Picture: Getty Images

The brothers are close, as Matt’s visit to Seminole this week and his supporting of Alex at Royal Liverpool two years ago suggests.

But the younger Fitzpatrick is eager to carve out a name for himself.

“I mean, from a brother’s perspective I think we’re pretty close,” Alex told The Yorkshire Post ahead of their penultimate practice day at Seminole this week.

“It’s a little difficult when he’s thousands of miles away all the time, not like a normal brother who’s probably there 90 per cent of the time when you get home.

Alex Fitzpatrick and Conor Purcell embrace after scoring the first point of the day beating USA during day one of the 2019 Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake. (Picture: PA)

“But I’d like to think I’m as close as I can be to him with what we have.

“From a golfing perspective, I guess I wanted to make my own name when I was growing up, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job.

“It’s always going to be difficult when you both play the same sport, and I guess reaching a certain level you’re always going to be compared, and that’s okay, and I’ve learnt to live with that.

“It was good to see him, Monday. His plan was to come help out the team in as many ways as possible, and he came and walked the course with us, which was nice, and gave us some good pointers.”

Alex was making a name for himself at the last Walker Cup, winning both his matches before losing in both the foursomes and the singles on the Sunday as the United States romped home.

Two years on, the memories are still vivid and it is clear he now sees himself as one of the team’s de facto leaders.

Alex Fitzpatrick gets a hug from his older brother Matt during the 2019 Walker Cup (Picture: PA)

“What happened to us at Hoylake is kind of golf, I guess,” he says.

“We were looking good going into the last day, and I know we didn’t have a great foursomes in the morning on the Sunday, but we were all up to go out there and win our points.

“I sadly didn’t do my job. I didn’t get a point on the board early for the rest of the team to see, and that was partly on me.

“But I think the only thing you could kind of take out from it was that putting points on the board early is probably the most important thing you can do, making sure that the guys behind you can all see that you’re getting that blue on the board as early as you can and getting them points, and I guess just trying to rack up enough points to make sure that you win.

“Other than that, I don’t think there’s much really you can say. Golf is a funny game, and all you can do is go out there, and if you give your best, that’s all you can do really.

“Having some experience from that last one is important to bring, but a lot of these guys, if not all of them, have all played some form of match-play.”

Two young men who may well be looking up to Fitzpatrick are his fellow Yorkshiremen, Ben Schmidt, 18, from Rotherham Golf Club, and Barclay Brown, 20, his club-mate from Hallamshire.

It is a huge sense of pride for the Yorkshire union, and the Sheffield Golf Union no less, to have three members of a 10-man team covering four home nations coming from South Yorkshire alone.

Brown, like the younger Fitzpatrick resides in the United States, having taken a scholarship to Stanford University.

He is a former winner of the English Boys Under-18s Championship. Brown was also a winner on the Collegiate circuit as recently as last month.

Schmidt also has experience of winning at home and abroad. Although the youngest member of the GB&I team in Florida this week, he won the famous Brabazon Trophy as a 16-year-old, eclipsing Sandy Lyle as the tournment’s youngest champion, and he also won in Australia last year before the pandemic disrupted the season.

Stuart Wilson, GB&I’s captain this week, said: “I know Yorkshire has a strong golfing heritage and is a good county for producing great golfers.

“Everyone brings their own thing to the team. They’re all well deserved earning of their spots and they’re great golfers.

“It’s nice to have that camaraderie there that’s maybe being born out of the same county. A lot of the guys obviously know each other from all their national squads, as well, so yeah, we’re in a good place.”

The Walker Cup begins this afternoon UK time with the four foursomes matches followed by eight singles. Tomorrow, another four foursomes matches precede all 10 players on each team contesting the closing singles.

“We’re going to be playing 36 holes a day, especially in the heat, so it’s going to be tough,” said Fitzpatrick, who by tomorrow night might be stepping out of his brother’s shadow by doing something even Matt could not manage – winning the Walker Cup.

Whatever happens, with Alex Fitzpatrick, Brown and Schmidt, Yorkshire’s golfing future is in safe hands.

Stuart Wilson calls on memories of Ganton win

Stuart Wilson, the non-playing captain of Great Britain and Ireland this week, was a Walker Cup winner at Ganton in North Yorkshire 18 years ago.

He claimed two points as Great Britain and Ireland won for the third match in a row.

“It was great to be involved in 2003 at Ganton, given that normally it’s special to win the Walker Cup at any time for GB&I but to be part of a team that won it, and it was the third GB&I in succession to actually win, it gives our guys now a bit of realisation of what can be done,” said Wilson.

GB&I have won only twice since, and not on American soil since two years prior to the world of amateur golf descended on Ganton.

“We’d never say we’re outsiders because certainly with the format of the match and with 18 holes of match play, everybody knows anything can happen at any time,” said Wilson.

“As far as kind of being up against it, you’re always up against it when you come here.

“When we had the Walker Cup at Ganton the home crowd was a big advantage for us, as well, getting behind us and spurring us on. But we’re going to have very, very few GB&I spectators here cheering us on, but there’ll be very few of theirs, so we can use that to our advantage, to kind of spur the guys on.”

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