‘Work ethic like no other,’ not fate, lands Matthew Fitzpatrick U.S. Open title

‘Work ethic like no other,’ not fate, lands Matthew Fitzpatrick U.S. Open title
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BROOKLINE, Mass. – It was 12:30 a.m., and the Fitzpatricks were on the verge of another national championship.

Just like at the 2013 U.S. Amateur, the Fitzpatrick family was crashing with Will Fulton, an area resident and The Country Club’s chairman for the 2022 U.S. Open. The mood was light, the red wine flowing, and the conversation naturally turned to the final round, set to begin in 14 hours.

“Matt is going to win it tomorrow,” Fulton said. “It’s fate.”


Matt Fitzpatrick, perhaps the most methodical and disciplined golfer on the planet, wasn’t leaving this one up to the golf gods or some outside force. This is a player who since age 15 has kept a spreadsheet of every golf shot he’s ever hit. Who plays Trackman games to perfect his practice. Who will do just about anything – gain 20 pounds, chip crosshanded, putt with the flag in – if it means giving him even the tiniest edge over his peers.

“I’ve called him Bernhard Langer’s love child,” said Fitzpatrick’s caddie, 40-year veteran Billy Foster. “I’ve worked with some great players, but he’s by far the most professional player I’ve ever worked for. And he got it today.”

All the hours of solitary practice, all the hard-earned gains, all the sacrifices big and small – they paid off in a statement-making performance Sunday at The Country Club. Using his newfound length and hitting 17 greens in a clinical Open performance, Fitzpatrick won not just his first major title, but for the first time on the PGA Tour. He joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win the U.S. Amateur and Open on the same venue.

“The feeling is out of this world,” he said.

His father, Russell, experienced a different sensation. 

“It’s very déjà vu, really,” he said.

Indeed, Russell realized that he had been standing in this exact spot nine years earlier, giving an interview, when his family’s course changed forever.  

At Brookline in 2013, Matt Fitzpatrick was the top-ranked player in the world and coming off a low-amateur performance just a few weeks earlier at Muirfield. Having dusted the field at The Country Club with his then-13-year-old brother on the bag, Matt’s family insisted that the rising star would fulfill his scholarship at Northwestern and spend all four years there.

​Matthew Fitzpatrick won his first major title and repeated history on Sunday at the 122nd U.S. Open.

“This might be as good as it ever gets,” Russell had said that day. “You just never know. Professional sport is really, really tough. I’ve seen players turn pro, and we never hear from them again.”

Fitzpatrick turned pro after a couple of months.

Despite his father’s concerns, Fitzpatrick was heard from again, of course. Playing primarily in Europe, he won five times in his first few years on the DP World Tour but was known mostly as a short, scrappy player with a tidy short game; decked out in Under Armour garb, he appeared a less physically imposing and gifted version of Jordan Spieth.

In the fall of 2020, Fitzpatrick sensed the need for change and embarked on an ambitious transformation. Bryson DeChambeau had just authored what appeared to be a game-changing victory at the U.S. Open, where he wailed away on driver at Winged Foot and romped to a six-shot win at golf’s toughest test. After seeing that macho display at one of the game’s most storied venues, Fitzpatrick was annoyed. Calling on the governing bodies to crack down on distance gains, he told reporters that DeChambeau’s bomb-and-gouge style was “making a mockery of the game,” and that he, too, could gain 40 pounds and 40 yards, but that the real skill was still being able to hit it straight.

“I don’t necessarily think people will try and copy him, putting all that weight on,” he said then, “but I think you’ll see people going harder at it.”

One of those people became Fitzpatrick himself.

That winter, he huddled with longtime swing coach Mike Walker and biomechanist Sasho Mackenzie to add more pop. Using a speed-training system called The Stack, Fitzpatrick religiously swung a physical swing-training stick to build a better sequence and swing faster while also using an app integrated with artificial intelligence that adjusted as he moved through his training sessions.

“I’ll be honest,” he said, “it has worked wonders.”

‘What a relief’: Foster finally tastes major win

'What a relief': Foster finally tastes major win

When he teed it up early the next year in Abu Dhabi, Fitzpatrick noticed immediate improvement. He shot 62 in the practice round and flicked wedges onto the green.

“I was like, This is easy!” he said. “You just hit it miles, wedge it on and hole the putt.”

Fitzpatrick’s clubhead speed increased more than 5 mph over 2019, and he’s gained more than a stroke and a half on the field per round with his driver than earlier in his career. This season he is the seventh-best driver on Tour.

“From when I started four years ago,” Foster said, “he’s a different animal completely. He’s a proper player now. I don’t know where it’s come from, but his work ethic is like no other.”

Fitzpatrick’s practice sessions are the stuff of legend. His family said that Matt has charted every shot he’s ever hit since the age of 15, logging it all on a spreadsheet. Foster has seen the notes:

8-iron: 4 yards right

9-iron: 2 yards left

“It’s incredible the effort he puts in,” Foster said.

Each practice day is scheduled, oftentimes down to the ball count. At the practice area he’ll move around flags to fine-tune his proximity. He fires up his Trackman and plays closest-to-the-pin games with himself.

“If you saw the whole thing in person, you’d be amazed,” his brother, Alex, said.

His father went a step further: “If somebody spent a week with him, you’d think he’s crazy.”

Fitzpatrick’s quest for improvement knows no bounds. He started chipping crosshanded in 2020 because he found the strike, flight and spin more consistent. Even though most players abandoned the idea, he has been putting with the flagstick in since 2019. He wanted to fix his teeth, so he opted to get braces, at 27. He wears Sketchers even though he’s not elderly.

In general, he said, “If it’s better and it works and it helps you win, you may as well do it. I’d rather win than worry about looking stupid.”

Combine all of those factors, and Fitzpatrick has enjoyed a breakout year in 2022, even without a victory. For a while, the top player in the game’s strokes gained: total statistic (which measures a player’s complete game against his peers) wasn’t Scottie Scheffler or Jon Rahm or Rory McIlroy. No, it was Fitzpatrick – no longer short and scrappy, but a certified, stout stud.

“There’s just a dedication to getting better each day,” Alex said. “The 1% every day gets him there and separates him from everyone else.”

And at this level, infinitesimal gains can lead to massive payoffs.

The only missing piece was major experience. That finally came last month at the PGA Championship, where Fitzpatrick played his way into the final round. A Sunday 73 was forgettable, and for two hours flying home Fitzpatrick stewed at the back of the plane. Foster kept trying to get his boss to focus on the bigger picture.

“Billy has been saying for a while: The time will come. You’re playing so well,” Fitzpatrick said. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. It will come. It will happen.”

Fitzpatrick turned up at Brookline not just as a sentimental favorite, considering his 2013 Amateur ties, but as a legit threat to win. Three rounds of par or better at an increasingly cranky Country Club gave Fitzpatrick a share of the 54-hole lead with Will Zalatoris, who was coming off his own playoff disappointment at Southern Hills. 

Full-field scores from U.S. Open

Nine years later, back at the Fultons’ house, the entire crew couldn’t shake the feeling that this was Fitzpatrick’s time, even if it was mostly the red wine talking. Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, was anxious for his 2:45 p.m. start.

“There’s just a lot of stuff going on,” he said. “I just don’t think people realize how hard it is to win a major. There’s only four of them a year. And it just takes a little bit extra.”

Like of the most clinical displays in Open history.

On a cool but calm New England afternoon, Fitzpatrick became just the third player in the last 30 years to hit 17 greens in the final round of a U.S. Open win, joining Nick Faldo and Brooks Koepka.

And Fitzpatrick’s most important iron shot was his last.

All season he has struggled with his fairway-bunker play, and that’s where his final tee shot ended up on the 18th. Leading Zalatoris and Scheffler by a shot, with his ball slightly on the upslope, Fitzpatrick chose 9-iron … and hoped.

“It was just kind of natural ability that took over and I just played the shot that was at hand, as if I was a junior trying to hit it close,” he said.

Fitzpatrick’s shot didn’t just clear the lip of the bunker, but it skied over the cavernous greenside sand and plopped 20 feet away for birdie.

“It’s one of the best shots I ever hit, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

Said Zalatoris: “That golf shot was 1-in-20, at best. To pull it off in that situation is incredible.”

When Zalatoris’ tying birdie putt on a similar line slid by, Fitzpatrick finally cracked a big smile, flashing those braces. Foster grabbed the back of his head, at last a major winner after 40 years on the bag.

Foster has looped for some of the best players of this generation, from late-career Seve Ballesteros to Lee Westwood to Sergio Garcia. There have been a handful of heartbreaks, none worse than the 2003 Open, when Thomas Bjorn kicked away a late lead in the St. George’s sand. Foster said that one tore him up so badly, he thought about it every day for six months.

“This has put a lot of bad memories to bed,” Foster said. “It means everything. I had a guerilla on my back, never mind a monkey.”

By now, darkness was starting to fall on the 18th green. Foster was nursing a Heineken, telling stories, reflecting on the day, fielding calls every few minutes.

One of his pals was patching in now.

“F—ing how good is that?” Foster asks. He puts his friend on speaker phone.

“That man is an absolute legend!” he says.

A minute later, another call, this time from a 407 area code.

“I’m a huge fan of you as a person, and I’m so happy for you, bro. Fitz basically didn’t miss a shot for four hours!”

Foster says that he appreciates the call and the kind words, that he’ll see him in a few weeks in Scotland.

“Sean Foley …,” Foster says after hanging up. “How does he got my number!?”

More obligations remain, so the victory party is still a few hours away. They’ll probably have a toast in the clubhouse, then retire to the Fultons’ house, just like in 2013.

“It’ll be a loooong night,” Russell Fitzpatrick says.

His son has two weeks off, but the celebration isn’t expected to linger. After all, there’s a strict diet to follow. And a weighted training stick to swing. And ordinary practice shots to chart.

“Oh, Matt will be there tonight,” his father says, readjusting his new Boston Red Sox hat, “and he’ll party with us whether he likes it or not.”

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