If you looked closely Sunday you may have noticed two big monkeys skulking out of The Country Club in Brookline, freed from the backs of two very happy and hugely relieved Englishmen.
Matt Fitzpatrick’s elite ball striking and clutch putting emphatically put to bed the silly notion, fuelled by a myopic American media, that he didn’t have the mettle to win on their side of the Atlantic Ocean and it was sweeter still that he timed his maiden title stateside to coincide with the 122nd staging of the U.S. Open.
The “dream” victory comes nine years after Fitzpatrick and his even more baby-faced brother cum caddie Alex combined to win the U.S. Amateur at the same venue and means Matt emulates Jack Nicklaus and Juli Inkster as the only players to win USGA Amateur and Open titles at the same course.
“It’s what you grow up dreaming of,” said the 27-year-old from Sheffield who also becomes the first non-American to win both titles.
“It’s something I’ve worked so hard for, for such a long time. I’ve got to give myself credit… I had so much patience today.”
When @MattFitz94 enters Brookline, he enters the history books.
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) June 19, 2022
Following an epic final group duel with desperately unlucky 54-hole co-leader Will Zalatoris, Fitzpatrick secured $3,15 million – the largest first-place cheque in major championship history –and described winning as “10 million times” better than he’d dreamt it might be. You figure Fitzpatrick’s grizzled caddie, Billy Foster, might need to be reassured roughly the same amount of times that it’s actually happened too.
The veteran English looper has shouldered some of the best bags in the business, for the likes of Lee Westwood, Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and even Tiger Woods. But it was with Fitzpatrick, who he helped win the 2020 DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, that he finally had his own major to savour after more than 30 years of trying.
Foster buried his head into his cap as Zalatoris’ birdie attempt to force a playoff off on the 72nd hole burnt the edge of the cup. The caddie’s disbelieving boss seemed to have to reassure him that, yes, it really was a dream come true. Later, as Fitzpatrick was being bear-hugged by his giddy brother and mother and even Rory McIlroy, Foster was caught kissing the flag. It wasn’t quite as poignant as Hideki Matsuyama’s caddie bowing to a higher power on the 18th green at the 2021 Masters but it was no less sincere a moment.
“Unbelievably emotional,” Foster said afterwards. “Glad someone has got that giant monkey off my back. Actually, it’s more like a bloody gorilla off my back, never mind a monkey!”
“I knew that coming here he would have another chance and at St. Andrews he would have another chance. I knew he was good enough to win a Major and this week he has played unbelievable and he’s not putted his best which is incredible really.”
Billy Foster has been a top-tier caddie for 30+ years. Carried the bags of Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn, Lee Westwood. Today he won his first major championship. What a moment on 18: pic.twitter.com/ECENTyzM7l
— Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier) June 19, 2022
It takes two to negotiate a pressure-packed major championship Sunday but only one-half of the partnership can hit the shots and Fitzpatrick handled that with aplomb at Brookline, closing with a 68 to finish -6 and a shot clear of Zalatoris and world No.1 Scottie Scheffler. Fitzpatrick found 17 of 18 greens in regulation to slowly grind all of Sunday’s contenders into submission with iron play for the ages.
After back-to-back bogeys immediately after the turn, Fitzpatrick reignited his charge by binning an unlikely 50-foot putt for birdie across almost the entire width of the Brookline’s 13th green. But it was the 225-yard shot he gently faded into the 15th from a dead-pan lie that signalled to playing partner Zalatoris that he was going to need something extraordinary to avoid runner-up finishes in consecutive majors and a third-second place overall (the first coming to Matsuyama at Augusta) in the bigs. Zalatoris could not find the magic, but that was more about Fitzpatrick’s ball-striking than any weakness on the American’s part.
Commentators’ called the shot into 15 the shot of the tournament but were maybe premature after Fitzpatrick dumped his three-wood tee-shot on the 72nd hole into a left-hand fairway trap. He led by one but it looked like the U.S. Open might be heading to a playoff as Fitzpatrick faced a tricky 159-yard shot from the sand.
On cue, the world No.10 flushed a 9 iron to the heart of the green before two-putting and leaving the stage to Zalatoris.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 20, 2022
“Matt’s shot on 18 is going to be shown probably for the rest of U.S. Open history,” Zalatoris said. “I walked by it, and I thought that going for it was going to be ballsy, but the fact that he pulled it off and even had a birdie look was just incredible.”
For his part, Fitzpatrick admitted instinct took over.
“It just all happened so fast. It was like just kind of natural ability took over and just played the shot that was at hand, if I was a junior trying to hit it close. And I didn’t mean to do that, but I just committed to the shot we kind of planned and came out of it squeezy fade. When I saw it leave the bunker and I felt the strike, yeah, it was amazing.”
“I love playing this golf course,” Fitzpatrick continued. “It suits me so well. It suits my game well. I’ve been playing well for a while, and I think it all just fell into place that this was the place it was going to happen.”
At the trophy presentation Fitzpatrick, with the golden Jack Nicklaus medal poignantly dropped around his neck, admitted that he’d had his own “big monkey on my back” after a number of near misses on the PGA Tour. He even referenced a ribbing from the Golden Bear after winning a member-member title at The Bear’s Club in Florida at the start of the year, a course Nicklaus built.
“He gave me a bit of abuse at the start of the year. He said, ‘Finally. Congratulations for winning in the States,'” Fitzpatrick said before wondering out loud if the 18-time major champion might be watching on TV. “Jack, I won a second time,” said Fitzpatrick slightly raising the trophy Nicklaus had hoisted four times himself.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 20, 2022
It turns out Nicklaus was watching and called in a message of congratulations.
“Any time you’re sharing a record with Jack Nicklaus, it’s unbelievable,” Fitzpatrick said. “So for me to have that as well is incredible. He called me up down there just at the presentation to congratulate me. Coming from someone like that, it means the world.”