Before Sunday, the Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick had never won a professional golf tournament in the United States. Fitzpatrick joins Jack Nicklaus as the only male golfers to win a US Amateur and a US Open on the same course (Nicklaus did so at Pebble Beach in 1961 and 1972).
Today he has won two of the greatest golf events in the world on the same course. Nine years after winning the American Amateur at the Country Club in Boston, Fitzpatrick earned his first PGA Tour win at the 122nd U.S. Open at the same course on Sunday with a one-stroke victory on Will Zalatoris and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler. Here’s what we learned at the US Open this week:
It was Fitzpatrick time
Fitzpatrick became the first player to earn his first PGA Tour win at a major since fellow countryman Danny Willett won the 2016 Masters. But it’s not like Fitzpatrick has never won as a professional before.
Fitzpatrick, 27, has won seven times on the European Tour (now the DP World Tour), including twice at the DP World Tour championship in Dubai. He had headed in the right direction at majors, tied for 14th at the Masters and tied for 5th at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills last month. The performance at Southern Hills, perhaps more than any other, proved to Fitzpatrick that he could be competitive at this level.
“Because it’s a major tournament, it’s very different from a regular PGA Tour tournament,” Fitzpatrick said. “At the end of the day, it’s very difficult to win them. I think until Southern Hills I didn’t really realize how difficult it is to win a major tournament. Yes, I hadn’t really taken up the challenge until then. I think, myself included, and people on the outside maybe think it’s easier than it is. Just look at Tiger [Woods]. He eliminated so many in such a short time. That’s why I think people are like, ‘Oh, that’s a piece of cake, it’s like a normal Tour event. But this is not the case.”
And of course, Fitzpatrick’s history at the Country Club gave him an edge the others didn’t have. He stayed in the same house with the same foster family he had during the 2013 American Amateur. “I definitely think that gives me an edge over others, yeah,” said Fitzpatrick the night before the final round. “I sincerely believe it. This is a very positive moment in my career. It kind of gave me a boost.”
Rory is the face of the PGA Tour
McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, has once again failed to end his eight-year drought without a major championship. He is now 0 for 29 in major championships since winning the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla.
McIlroy, 33, was 4-under going into the weekend at the Country Club, but he was never able to do anything on Saturday and Sunday, at least not until the end. He birdied numbers 14 and 15, but missed good chances on the last two holes.
“It’s not won or lost”, said McIlroy, who finished tied for fifth at 2 under. “It’s not like my result is the same as if I didn’t play this weekend. I guess when I look back, will I remember the fifth place I got at Brookline? Probably not. … I played well enough to give me a chance to win. I haven’t done the job, but I’m closer than I’ve been in a while, which is good.”
But McIlroy’s best work came earlier in the week, when he once again defended the PGA Tour. He criticized young players who left for LIV Golf for taking the “easy route” and called their decisions myopic.
“I understand. Yeah, because a lot of these guys are in their late 40s,” McIlroy said. “In the case of Phil [Mickelson], in his early fifties. Yes, I think everyone in this room would think their best days are behind them. That’s why I don’t understand guys who are the same age as me, because I’d like to believe that my best days are still ahead of me, and I think theirs are too. So that’s where I feel like you’re taking the easier route.”
The USGA got it right
The Country Club hadn’t hosted the US Open since 1988, when Curtis Strange beat Nick Faldo in the play-off. Let’s hope the USGA won’t wait 34 years to host it again at this suburban Boston club.
Overall, the course and facility have received rave reviews from players. Yes, it was difficult. The wind was swirling, the third cut of rough was ankle deep in water and the greens were small and firm. Overnight rain and less wind prevented typical US Open Sunday conditions from developing.
“Other than the smaller chipping green, I think this is the best place I’ve played in a while,” said Collin Morikawa on Sunday. “There’s only been a handful of courses where I’ve really set foot on the property, and you see it for a short time and then you think you’re going to like it, and that was the One. Two. There is no BS around this. It is a good golf course.
“You really have to chart your course. You have to think about it. I thought it was a course you could play pretty well on and a course that could hurt you behind pretty quickly. I think I had both, but overall, yes, I liked it”.
The USGA has been heavily criticized for the course conditions at the US Open in the recent past, but it has to be said that they succeeded this time around. Tyrrell Hatton didn’t even complain. “The golf course obviously got a little rain [samedi]so he was a bit more responsive than he’s been all week, which is probably why you’re seeing lower scores late in the game”said Gary Woodland, the winner of the 2019 US Open. “The wind has calmed down a bit now. It would have been interesting if we hadn’t had the rain last night. I think it would have been similar to what happened yesterday. But [samedi] was what they wanted, and that’s what you want in a US Open. It was hard. The conditions were brutal. The golf course set up perfectly.”
LIV Golf guys haven’t had a good week
The build-up to the US Open centered on the ongoing battle for the soul of professional golf between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the breakaway tour led by former world number one Greg Norman and funded by the Investment Fund public of Saudi Arabia.
The USGA found itself in a difficult position when PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspended 17 players for playing at LIV Golf’s inaugural event outside London last week. Some of those players, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Kevin Na, had already entered the tournament through byes, and it wouldn’t have been fair to kick them out after the fact.
Once the tournament started on Thursday, however, LIV Golf’s roster was not a deciding factor. Only four of the 15 players who participated in the London event or who announced they would participate in the next event in Portland, Oregon managed to qualify for the US Open. None of those who stayed for the weekend played very well. Johnson was the best 4-hole player. Englishman Richard Bland was 8 over, Patrick Reed 10 over and Bryson DeChambeau 13 over.
That’s the problem with LIV Golf right now. Apart from Johnson, the majority of players who have left the circuit are either old men or empty shells. Reed hasn’t won since January 2021 and has just two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season. DeChambeau hasn’t won since March 2021 and is coming back from left-hand surgery. He’s only had seven starts this season. It was his seventh consecutive finish outside the top 25 at a major, the longest such drought of his career.
The PGA Tour-LIV Golf feud is not over anytime soon. While most top players, including Scheffler, Zalatoris, Morikawa and McIlroy, say they will stay on the tour, a slow exodus of other players is likely to continue over the next few weeks. LIV Golf should announce at the beginning of the week the list of 48 players for the Portland tournament. There is speculation that a few notable players could be among the latest defections.