There was a moment just off the second green during Saturday’s U.S. Amateur semifinal match when Matt Fitzpatrick turned to his caddie/brother Alex and asked for his 58-degree wedge. When he reached inside the bag, Alex, 14, realized he had mistakenly left the implement next to a greenside bunker on the first hole.
Fitzpatrick internally cringed over his brother’s oversight, but later laughed off the gaffe as a USGA official retrieved the club in time for him to play his shot.
It was easy to smile after the shots he pulled off with the club. Once his club was returned, Fitzpatrick made an exquisite up-and-down par. That was Fitzpatrick’s theme for the entire match, as the 18-year-old from England rallied for a 2-and-1 win over Corey Conners, of Canada, at The Country Club.
The startling stat was that Fitzpatrick hit only five of 17 greens, but when he rolled in a 15-foot birdie at No. 17 to close out the match, earning a spot in Sunday’s 36-hole championship match against Oliver Goss, he was the equivalent of two under par.
"I think my short game was probably the best of my life today," said Fitzpatrick. "Sort of every chip and putt that I looked at was close. Yeah, it was just really, really good short game, I'd say."
None better than the wedge he holed for birdie from behind the eighth green. Faced with a shot that most golfers wouldn’t get within 15 feet, Fitzpatrick flopped his ball barely in front of him and watched it trickle into the hole to square the match. On the sixth hole, he made a 40-foot birdie putt. And on the seventh green, he rolled in a 20-footer for par to halve the hole.
What’s interesting is that Fitzpatrick, the low amateur at last month’s British Open, called his short game a weakness.
"Well, if I'm completely honest, and this is going to come across really bad, but I know for a fact that chipping and pitching is the worst part of my game," said Fitzpatrick. "But [here] you've got to be confident coming out of the rough. You've got to give it the full commitment to the shot. And I think hitting a few good chips early on gave me the confidence to keep going at it."
What has been strikingly obvious over the course of the week is how composed Fitzpatrick is on the course. His mother, Susan, said she has rarely seen her son get visibly upset.
"There’s not much that changes his demeanor," said Susan Fitzpatrick, who has been on site all week with her husband, Russell. "He’s very focused."
On Verge Of History
This week’s U.S. Amateur is a celebration of Francis Ouimet’s 1913 U.S. Open victory, when he defeated English stalwarts Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff. Ouimet was 20 years old at the time and was the first amateur to win the Open.
Interesting enough, no foreign-born golfer won any of the 15 previous USGA championships contested at The Country Club.
That streak will be broken on Sunday as Oliver Goss and Fitzpatrick hail from Australia and England, respectively.
Fitzpatrick is vying to join Harold Hilton (1911) as the only Englishman to have his name inscribed on the Havemeyer Trophy. Only two Australians have won the Amateur – Walter Travis (1900, 1901 and 1903) and Nick Flanagan (2003).
"It's a nice position to be in," said Fitzpatrick. "But again, it's not the end of the world if it doesn't come off tomorrow. There are worse things, so I'm just giving it my best, and if I don't play well enough on the day, then that's that."
This will be Fitzpatrick’s third experience with a 36-hole final. He won the 2012 British Boys Championship, but lost in this year’s English Amateur final.
Adding to No. 17’s Lore
The 17th hole at The Country Club has a history almost as rich as the club itself. In the 1913 U.S. Open, Francis Ouimet birdied the hole in the final round and again in the playoff to secure his groundbreaking victory over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, and Vardon drove into a bunker at the corner of the dogleg-left hole (now called the Vardon Bunker), to dash his playoff hopes. In 1999, USA Ryder Cup Team member Justin Leonard holed a 45-foot putt from the front portion of the green to win his singles match and secure the Ryder Cup for the U.S.
Today, Fitzpatrick came to No. 17 holding a 1-up lead over Corey Conners. He hit his approach to the center of the green, while Conners left his approach from a fairway bunker short. Conners hit a beautiful pitch to 2 feet, giving himself a chance to extend the match to No. 18.
Fitzpatrick had other ideas. The 18-year-old phenom calmly sank his 25-footer to make birdie and seize the match, 2 and 1. The gallery of roughly 2,000 erupted into loud cheers, echoing off the nearby house where Ouimet once lived.
Making Their Pitch
Both Goss and Fitzpatrick were invited by the Boston Red Sox to throw out the first pitch at Saturday afternoon’s game at Fenway Park against the New York Yankees. As a gesture to his good friend, Goss invited Brady Watt to also attend the game. The two Australians attended Friday night’s game at Fenway Park. Goss defeated Watt, 2 up, in the other semifinal on Saturday.
By The Numbers
Fitzpatrick is ranked No. 2 in this week’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), while Goss is No. 13. The starting field of the 2013 U.S. Amateur included 40 out of the top 50 players in the WAGR … Fitzpatrick won his first four matches by 4-and-3 margins, meaning before today he had not played past the 15th hole since Tuesday’s stroke-play round.