The Masters: Matt FitzpatrickMarch, 2014
With a US Amateur title and a Silver Medal under his belt, Fitzpatrick is now preparing for Augusta...
MATT FITZPATRICK starts the 2014 season with something most professionals can only dream of – a guaranteed spot in three Major championships.
As things stand, three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington will not be playing in the Masters. Neither will 2012 Ryder Cup team-mates Nicolas Colsaerts and Paul Lawrie. A string of European hopefuls for the 2014 team at Gleneagles, like Tommy Fleetwood, Thorbjørn Olesen and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, will be missing as well.
Yet the 19-year-old Fitzpatrick has invites to Augusta, as well as Pinehurst No 2 and Royal Liverpool, guaranteed thanks to a superb US Amateur victory last year. Add that to his Silver Medal from Muirfield and the South Yorkshire teenager has earned his chance to take on the pros on the very biggest stages.
This year, without question, will be the biggest of his golfing life.
“I’m really looking forward to the Masters, just because of what it is,” he said. “Everyone knows how special the place is so that should be fantastic.”
Preparing for a tournament as big as the Masters is something totally new to the youngster, having only qualified for his one previous Major two weeks before the tournament began. Fortunately, he has a plan which extends well beyond the chipping green at Hallamshire.
Based in Sheffield, Fitzpatrick is able to access the skills of two of the game’s best tutors. Pete Cowen coaches many of the world’s best players including Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer, while Mike Walker is also a renowned tour coach with Mark Warren and Brett Rumford on his books.
“I class both Mike and Pete as my coaches and they’re fantastic. I’m very lucky to have them both half an hour away. Not even tour pros get better access than that!
“I’m going to the USA for five weeks and I’ll be playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill,” he said. “After that I’ve got about 10 days straight where I’ll be at Augusta practising the whole time. It’s going to be pretty special.”
The teenager has a huge grin on his face, as if he can scarcely believe that he will be teeing off at Augusta.
“It’s one of the best things that I’ll probably ever do. You’ll never get better than playing in three Majors and certainly at Augusta which is so private to get on.”
That’s not to say that Fitzpatrick will enter any of his Majors without goals.
Of course I’d love to win all the low-amateur titles at the three Majors. Maybe I could get a mini Green Jacket or something! “My aim in all the Majors is to make the cut and then take it from there. You don’t get a prize for that, but it would be a nice achievement to say that I played all four days at the US Open, the Open or the Masters.
“Of course I’d love to win all the low-amateur titles at the three Majors. Maybe I could get a mini Green Jacket or something!”
He will enter the Majors with an experienced ally by his side. Lorne Duncan has been a tour caddy for over 30 years and helped Fitzpatrick secure his Silver Medal at Muirfield.
“He will be caddying all the Majors and maybe some more as well.
“I’ve been speaking to my coach who knows him well, and he said that I should have him for all the pro tournaments that I play in. It would be nice to have him all the time but unfortunately it comes at a cost.”
In terms of strategy for Augusta, Duncan’s experience should help Fitzpatrick immeasurably.
“The par 5s will be very long and I think the course will play fairly wet, but I saw an interesting thing about a couple of people, I think Zach Johnson won there and never actually went for any of the par 5s in two,” he said.
“I think it will all come down to having a good wedge game. You’ve got to have an incredibly good short game to do well at Augusta and that’s where I’m putting in a lot of my work at the moment.”
Over the winter, Fitzpatrick decided to leave university life in Chicago behind and return home to concentrate on golf.
“I signed up for college in 2012 and a lot of things changed in 2013.
“I just wanted to be the best prepared I could for the coming season. I feel like I’ve got my whole team here and it’s very hard to speak to them when I’m over in the States.
“Skype and FaceTime aren’t that clear to see whether I’m swinging the club up to the right or down to the left! I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have said that I’ve made the right decision and I just think what happened last year is the main reason for the change.”
However any thoughts of turning pro are still a long way from his mind.
“It’s something that I’m not really thinking about at the moment.
“It’s something I hope will happen in the future, but I want to be the best that I feel I can be when I turn pro. For a start I’ve got all the Majors to come so I don’t want to give those up, and I know I’ve got a lot of room for improvement.
“The way I look at it is that you’ve got to work hard to get what you want. I’ve got to do it for myself and I’ve got to do it for family and friends,” he said.
“If I work hard and listen to what my coaches tell me then hopefully it will pay off. I’m only 19 and I’ve still got plenty of time.”