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Matt Fitzpatrick: The baby-faced assassin with a sentimental side

It's incredibly easy to root for the Englishman, writes Matt Chivers, and not just because of our attachment to him as one of our finest
 

Matt Fitzpatrick joked at the Masters that just making the cut would have been satisfactory.

A humorous yet honest assessment of his game and physical state prior to the RBC Heritage as he continued to toil with pain in his neck.

Back in February, the man from Sheffield told the media he was using the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as a warm-up to see where his capability to swing at full speed was. He missed the cut. Then he missed the cut at the Genesis, Players, and Valspar.

His lack of confidence and form continued to Augusta National, hence the flippant remarks, but the first major of the year was a turning point.

Fitzpatrick recorded a top-10 finish with a final-round 70, which was the most promising sign that his injury had subsided. Until now.

matt fitzpatrick

After holding off Patrick Cantlay and a late surge from Xander Schauffele, Fitzpatrick came out on top in a tense playoff with Jordan Spieth and secured his first non-major PGA Tour title. And he couldn’t have done it at a more fitting venue, one he frequented as a child to watch the stars of yesteryear in action.

“I always remember coming here and saying to my dad, ‘Is Tiger going to be here?'” Fitzpatrick said.

“And my dad was like, ‘No, Tiger’s not playing this week.’ I seem to remember that happening a lot! It was only ever when I came here, I was always looking for Tiger.

“I remember a few guys when I came here as a kid that I ended up seeing out there, but to me, just winning this tournament because of the history that I and my family have here is what means the world to me. That’s why this is so special.”

Fitzpatrick has grown a knack for winning tournaments that have a sentimental link to his youth. His US Open win at Brookline last year came almost a decade after he won the US Amateur as a teenager at the very same course.

His parents and his brother flocked the final green in New York, and they were present again at Hilton Head to see their eldest son become just the second Englishman since 1984 to win the Heritage.

It’s a victory that lifts Fitzpatrick to a career-high world ranking of eighth, but above all the trophies and tartan jackets, just having those closest to him to watch him win was satisfying enough – especially when it gave him a good indicator of what was about to happen.

“I felt like the shot was right down it from the moment it left the clubface,” he said of the “perfect” 9-iron that effectively won him the tournament.

“Then I knew it was good because my mum and my girlfriend were jumping up and down with their arms in the air.”

As for celebrations, Fitzpatrick is more one to keep it on the quiet side before he heads to New Orleans for the Zurich Classic, in which he’ll play alongside younger brother Alex.

“I was supposed to fly with Keegan Bradley and Patrick Rodgers at 7 o’clock, so I told them to carry on. We’ll stay here tonight and go for dinner, probably have a dessert. That’s as exciting as it gets.

“I’m lucky I’ve got my family, friends here, my girlfriend here, and that makes it very special.”

When you’ve followed Fitzpatrick’s career as closely as so many of us have through the years, it’s easy to think of him as still a boy.

But, somehow, he’s 28, and a major champion. More importantly, with the wise old head of Billy Foster on his bag, he’s looking capable of much more.

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