BROOKLINE, Mass. – For a guy who’s won seven times on the DP World Tour, Matt Fitzpatrick sure got an earful here in the United States.
Despite being a very accomplished player, contending often and playing in two Ryder Cups, Fitzpatrick was frequently asked about his lack of a victory on American soil.
Well, those questions have come to an end.
On some of the country’s most sacred footing in the sport, the Englishman outdueled Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler on a raw, overcast Sunday at The Country Club to win the 122nd US Open.
After grabbing a share of the lead with a 50-foot birdie on the 13th and then gaining the lead with a 19-foot birdie on the 15th, Fitzpatrick’s bid from 18 feet on the final hole to win the championship – set up by a brilliant bunker shot from 155 yards – missed left. He was left to stand to stand off to the side of the green as Zalatoris lined up a birdie putt from 14 feet that would have forced a playoff. But Zalatoris’ effort missed by a hair and Fitzpatrick sunk into the embrace of his caddie, legendary Billy Foster.
Welcome to the US Open champions fraternity, Mr. Fitzpatrick.
“The feeling’s out of this world,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s so cliché, but it’s stuff you dream of as a kid. To achieve it, I can retire a happy man tomorrow.”
A few minutes after he had earned his biggest victory to date, he received a congratulatory call from Jack Nicklaus, who has become a frequent lunch companion at the Bear’s Club in Florida. Fitzpatrick, 27, who won the 2013 US Amateur here on the course Francis Ouimet made famous in 1913 with his stunning upset over Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, joined the Golden Bear as the only two players to win the US Amateur and US Open on the same course. Nicklaus did so at Pebble Beach in 1961 and 1972. Juli Inkster is the only player to win the US Women’s Amateur and US Women’s Open on the same course (Prairie Dunes, 1980, 2002).
“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.”
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Fitzpatrick closed with a 2-under-par 68 to finish at 6 under. Zalatoris signed for a 69 and Scheffler a 67, as both wound up a 5 under.
It was another heartbreaking ending for Zalatoris, who lost in a playoff to Justin Thomas in the PGA Championship last month. He remains winless on the PGA Tour but is as confident as he’s ever been that a victory is coming.
“I think this one is probably going to take a little bit more processing than (the PGA),” Zalatoris said. “Like I said, I’ve got no regrets. I thought I played great all week, especially getting off to the start that I did today.
“It stings obviously. Obviously to have three runner-ups so far in my career in majors, I keep knocking on that door. We’re obviously doing the right things. I’d pay a lot of money for about an inch and a “half, and I’d probably be a three-time major champion at this point. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Scheffler, who has won four times this year, including the Masters, held the lead late on the front nine but was again done in by the shortest hole on the golf course. After reaching 6 under, Scheffler bogeyed 10 after an errant drive and then three-putted the 11th (which was playing just 108 yards) for bogey. He made double on the 11th in the third round and followed with three consecutive bogeys. He made a birdie on the 17th and just missed from 23 feet on the 18th to wind up one shot short.
“My game is still in a good spot. Gave myself a chance to win the US Open. Performed really well today under a lot of pressure. I made some key putts there in the beginning to kind of get today going,” Scheffler said. “I just played some quality golf. It just so happened the putts were going around the edge instead of in. That’s kind of what it felt like was happening most of the week. I was hitting a lot of good putts, and they just weren ‘t falling.A few breaks here or there, and I would be the one holding the trophy.
“Tip of the hat to Fitzy. He’s been playing really good golf, and he definitely deserved to win this event. I do not know if you guys noticed, but I feel like he has made some extreme improvements off the tee in a matter of months. “
Former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama rushed home with the week’s best score, a 65, to finish at 3 under.
Two-time major winner Collin Morikawa damaged his chances for a third with a 77 Saturday but bounced back with his second 66 to end at 2 under.
“I hope many 7 overs aren’t coming in the future, but it just kind of made me refocus and kind of just get back into things,” Morikawa said. “Just really start from the tee, get it in the fairway, and then worry about it from there.”
Also finishing at 2 under was Rory McIlroy, who signed for a 69. The four-time major winner has now played 29 majors without winning his fifth.
“Another top five in a major. I guess does not really mean anything,” McIlroy said. “The game’s there. The game’s there. I’ve got one more start next week in Hartford before I go to the Open Championship.
“I’ll get two weeks of good rest before the Open and play some golf links and prepare and look forward to that. Again, my game’s in good shape. I’ve got one more chance this year to try to get that major. “
Fitzpatrick won his first major in his 26th attempt. He’s made a steady rise each year and Sunday’s victory moved him to 10th in the Official World Golf Ranking, the first time he’s cracked the top 10.
He’s always worked as hard as he can and looked for unconventional ways if they would improve his game. Like his cross-handed chipping, which he started earlier this year. Leaving the flagstick in the hole when putting, which he started last year. And always checking his thousands of notebooks that hold data to every shot he’s ever hit as a professional.
En route to rounds of 68-70-68-68, Fitzpatrick kept his ball in play for the most part (he hit 17 greens in regulation in the final round), did not make a double bogey all week (which are killers in majors), and putted extremely well throughout.
And he took advantage of his extra length he added to his arsenal.
With each year improvement came more opportunities for the dramatic. Like his bunker shot on the 72nd hole.
“It’s one of the best shots I ever hit, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “You look throughout the week, the shots that you hit and the different times, it’s strange because that is probably such a huge shot in the moment. If I’m honest, I look back to my three approaches into 15, 16, and 17 as all really, really good shots; 18 was kind of just a bit of hit and hope. “
With two wins at The Country Club, it now holds a special place in Fitzpatrick’s heart. Whether or not he plays another major here, he’ll surely be back.
“I love playing this golf course,” he said. “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.”
Follow Steve DiMeglio on Twitter @Steve_DiMeglio.