Last week, the qualifying period for the European Ryder Cup team concluded with nine players solidifying their spots on the squad for the October showdown at Hazeltine. Two notable players among the group were Rafa Cabrera Bello, who was featured in a previous NLU player profile, and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Matthew Fitzpatrick is a twenty-one year old from Sheffield, England who plays predominantly on the European Tour. A member of Under Armour’s young stable of studs, the Englishman’s toothy grin can be deceptive, but he has the game and pedigree to rival some of America’s best young stars. Golf fans may remember watching Fitzpatrick dissect the course at Brookline Country Club en route to winning the 2013 U.S. Amateur. (With his younger brother on the bag, Ouimet-Lowery style). At the time, the young Northwestern-bound Englishman was touted to be the next Luke Donald destined to make an impact in college and on the PGA tour. However, those comparisons were premature as Fitzpatrick left Northwestern in 2014 in order to pursue a professional career on the European Tour. For a few years, Fitzpatrick has remained off the grid because of his play overseas, but he can use the Ryder Cup as a platform to reintroduce himself and his stellar game to American audiences.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 2013 U.S. Amateur Champion, and first Englishman to win it since 1911 (Picture Via SkySports).
Though he now has two victories on the European Tour, Fitzpatrick is still known for his phenomenal amateur career that included a victory at the 2012 Boys Amateur, Low Amateur at the 2013 Open Championship, a victory at the 2013 U.S. Amateur, a spot on the 2013 Walker Cup team, and a position at the top of the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Fitzpatrick boasted a strong match play record as an amateur. In 2013, he ran the table at the U.S. Amateur and sported a 3-1 record in a losing effort at the Walker Cup. Facing an infamously strong United States team, one that featured NLU favorites Max Homa and Justin Thomas, Fitzpatrick held his own and prevailed in both of his foursome matches and in one of two singles matches.
Standing at only 5’10”, Fitzpatrick is a relatively short hitter compared to the new breed of young bombers on tour. However, Fitzpatrick makes up for his lack of distance (190th on tour) with surgical precision tee-to-green. In 2015, he ranked 10th in driving accuracy, 7th in greens in regulation, and 13th in stroke average on the European tour, and he currently ranks 39th in driving accuracy, 7th in greens in regulation, and 53rd in stroke average in 2016. Even though his inconsistent putting (197th in putts per round) has limited his performance this season, Fitzpatrick has shown glimpses of superb play. Come October, his strong game tee-to-green still makes him a desirable partner in foursomes (alternate shot) format.
Last week, Fitzpatrick managed to grab the last automatic qualifying position based on his consistent play early in the season and strong stretch from late-July through August. Early in the 2015-2016 season, Fitzpatrick jump-started his year with a T-7 at the WGC HSBC Championship in Shanghai, T-16 at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and T-26 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. His game then cooled down, although he did manage to display glimpses of impressive play with a career major best T-7 at the Masters Tournament (a Sunday 67 helped him notch his first major top-ten) and a victory at the Nordea Masters in Sweden. His win at the Nordea Masters seemingly defied logic as the exact and short-hitting Fitzpatrick tamed an 8,000+ yard course that favors European bombers like Nicolas Colsaerts and Henrik Stenson. After a few months of below-average play, the young Englishman has seemingly found his game again in the past month. Following T-49 at the 2016 PGA Championship, he traveled back to Europe to record a T-9 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Paul Lawrie Match Play and 5th at the D+D REAL Czech Masters (brutal tournament names). I would classify Fitzpatrick’s Ryder Cup stock as flat for most of the 2015-2016 season, but trending upwards at the right time.