Matt Fitzpatrick 'twice the player he was' as he looks to end Ryder Cup drought
The 29-year-old from Sheffield is a major champion, a multiple winner in America and a top-10 player when at the peak of his powers, yet when it comes to golf’s biennial tussle he has nothing but unhappy memories.
In 2016 when he made his debut, Fitzpatrick went out once in the foursomes with Henrik Stenson and lost, and by the time he teed off in the final singles rubber against Zach Johnson, Darren Clarke’s men were already headed towards a 17-11 defeat at Hazeltine.
Five years later at Whistling Straits he was relied upon more heavily by European captain Padraig Harrington but slipped to 2&1 defeats in both foursomes appearances alongside Lee Westwood and then again was 12th man out against Daniel Berger, by which time, once more, Europe were on their way to a record-breaking loss.
“I was talking to Daniel as we were going around and we were kind of saying it’s pretty dead,” admitted Fitzpatrick. “The match didn’t really have any significance by the time we got to maybe the 10th or 12th hole.”
Despite that record, Fitzpatrick will contest his third Ryder Cup at Marco Simone in Rome this week as one of the key men on Luke Donald’s European team.
Along with Rory McIlroy, John Rahm and Justin Rose he is one of the only major winners on the team, plus he also finished second in the Italian Open played over the same course last year.
Most importantly, he also feels in himself that he belongs on the Ryder Cup stage.
“I think looking back, you could argue that I probably wasn’t necessarily ready for 2016. I was still really young,” said Fitzpatrick.
"I wasn’t obviously the longest (hitter) back then. There’s quite a lot of technical differences in my swing between now and then as well.
“I only played one foursomes and obviously the singles, so that was kind of disappointing. You build it up to be this amazing thing that you wanted to be part of, thinking that you’ll get a real good go at it, and obviously I never did. But at the same time it’s what you learn from. And I feel like I know much more how to get ready for an event like this now than I did.
“Being a major champion does you a world of good. You definitely feel much more like you belong.
“You feel like you’ve had that success at the highest level before, and you feel that you always have that feeling that you can repeat that.
"I definitely feel just much more experienced, particularly looking around the team room this time, one of the more experienced players just in general.
“Just having more experience I think holds me in good stead for this kind of event.
“I want to win a point, of course. But I really would rather be on a winning team.”
And should doubt ever creep in, Fitzpatrick need only turn to his left and seek the counsel of his caddie, fellow Yorkshireman Billy Foster, who will be appearing at his 15th Ryder Cup.
No man on either team in Italy this week is as experienced as the 57-year-old who has carried the bag at Ryder Cups for Gordon Brand Jnr, Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Fitzpatrick two years ago.
“He is twice the player he was three or four years ago,” Foster said this week when asked about his employer’s record in the event.