It was 13.36 local time on Thursday 16th June when Yorkshire’s Matt Fitzpatrick hit his opening tee shot in the 122nd United States Open Championship at The Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts. It was a different course set-up from the one he had triumphed over nine years earlier when winning the US Amateur but the vibes were good and he had been playing well. Seven top tens on the PGA Tour that season were testament to that. Just a smidgeon over twenty four hours later he had signed for rounds of 68 and 70. Paul Tesori, veteran and highly experienced looper for Webb Simpson, one of Matt’s playing partners over those first two days, shook hands with Fitzpatrick. He then turned to Billy Foster, who has been on Matt’s bag for the last three years and quietly said, “Congratulations on your first major.”Prophetic words from Tesori. This US Open did turn out to be 27-year old Fitzpatrick’s first major and also a first major for 59-year old Foster who has 40-odd regular tour victories under his belt, plus any number of Ryder Cups. Tesori added the rider that he wasn’t intending to jinx Billy by making this prophecy – rather, he was so impressed with his man’s game he couldn’t see anyone getting the better of him over the weekend.
So, Tesori’s instincts proved correct. A brace of 68s at the weekend, highlighted by a magnificent fairway bunker shot into the last, was enough for Fitzpatrick to consign WIll Zalatoris to his third runner-up spot in the last seven majors. It was enough, also, to emulate the great Jack Nicklaus in winning the US Amateur and Open titles at the same venue. In Jack’s case his victories came at Pebble Beach, another of America’s great courses with an enviable history and Jack, now a grizzled golden bear but still unsurpassed, called the new champion to congratulate him moments after his victory.Patricia and I watched the final round together, relishing the inevitable ebb and flow at the top of the leaderboard. It was engaging, absorbing and nervewracking, all at the same time. Sport at its best. An Irish pal of ours, a diehard McIlroy fan, bemoaned the fact that Rory was “still breaking hearts” as his quest to end his major drought continues. Eight years between major drinks is far too long for one as thirsty as Rory. Wonder if Tesori could look into his crystal ball and let Rory fans know how much longer we all have to wait?
I may be the broadcaster in this family but Patricia’s commentary during the final round was succint and to the point. A close-up shot of Fitzpatrick in full concentration mode elicited a grunt. “Padraig eyes,” she said, referring to Padraig Harrington’s wide-eyed, almost maniacal look when contending (successfully) for the game’s biggest prizes.
Next, we saw Rory with that treat of a golf swing of his. “Oh-oh! No twirl,” she said. Right again. It was a good shot, but not a pin splitter which at this stage was sorely needed.
But my favourite comment was when we saw Dustin Johnson, the new LIV golf pin up boy, arriving for the final round. The commentators were discussing the pressures of facing a Sunday at a US Open and were speculating as to what would be going through DJ’s head at that moment. “Which tee am I off?” was Patricia’s immediate response.
And that right there might just highlight the difference between proper sport and an invited, paid group who turn up and get paid no matter how they play. Those US Open contenders were grinding with every fibre of their being. They were mentally spent by the end of the week, seeking and fighting for relevance in their chosen field. They want to see their names on those major trophies alongside the great players who have preceded them in landing the biggest prizes of all. They have an innate sense of history and their place in the game. Do you really think Matt Fitzpatrick was thinking about the winner’s cheque when he came off that final green and his family engulfed him in celebratory hugs?I’m still hoping against hope that there are some things money can’t buy. If that is proved to be incorrect, golf, and, indeed, we as a human race, will be all the poorer for it.