If the absence of Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood from the first WGC event of the year counts as a surprise, Matt Fitzpatrick’s arrival on the outskirts of Miami points towards the prominence of a fresh English generation. Or, perhaps, further evidence of a changing of the guard.
This weekend, the 21-year-old from Sheffield will participate in his first WGC tournament in the United States, the Cadillac Championship. Fitzpatrick is the youngest member of the field at Doral.
“It’s great to be a part of it,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was just at breakfast in there, you look around the room and everyone in there is an unbelievable golfer. So it’s a great experience. It is a great field, probably the best I have played in as a pro.”
Any question over Fitzpatrick’s dedication can be answered by this very venue. During a festive break with family, he played Doral’s Blue Monster course on Christmas Day.
“It was funny, we were just down here on holiday,” Fitzpatrick said. “One of my friends who I stayed with last week for the Honda Classic wanted to play it, so my brother and I played. I could do with my brother hitting my driver here this week, because he hits it absolutely miles. It was fairly busy, weirdly, Christmas Day and it did feel good to be out there.
“It was really windy and I can honestly say I stood on every tee and I couldn’t see a birdie on any of them. It doesn’t really suit me, it’s so long. There are bunkers you need to carry at 320 yards and that’s not my game.
“I’m thrilled to be here, though, and looking forward to this week. But there are no expectations and on paper I’m due to finish last. And that can be a good thing, because I can just go out there and relax.”
Fitzpatrick’s position in elite company is merited. He is ranked inside the top 50 players in the world, is a European Tour winner and will return to Augusta National in April for his first Masters appearance as a professional. He missed the cut in 2014 when the reigning US amateur champion.
“I am thinking about the Masters all the time but to be honest that doesn’t worry me,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m young and have qualified for the Masters, so I should be really looking forward to it, be excited about it and I am. I’m not nervous or anything or telling myself you have to do this or that. I’m going to enjoy it over here on this run of tournaments.”
On face value, this seems incongruous for someone who left the American college system after just a year. “It’s the complete opposite, I love it here,” he said. “I left just because of the opportunities I had to play, that was all.”
Chubby Chandler, Fitzpatrick’s manager, confirmed that full-time status on the PGA Tour is a long-term aspiration for the Yorkshireman but not the goal during a tournament run of four from six weeks on this side of the Atlantic.
“That is not the intention and is not in his mind,” Chandler said. “We’ve talked about it and think that three or four years would be about right to get his PGA Tour card. Of course, if he knocks a victory off, which he is more than capable of, we would have a decision to make. But we’ll cross that bridge as and when.
“The reason why he is playing four out of six weeks here is that it wouldn’t have made any sense dashing back across the oceans to play in Thailand or Indonesia on the European Tour. Matt’s 21 and like any 21-year-old his only hobby is playing golf and that is why he is playing so much. He works so hard at it, as he showed by playing Christmas Day.
“I actually think the courses that suit Matt are the hard ones and if it blows this week then that will suit him. The majors will suit Matt, because the tougher the better for him and people might think the opposite. No, he doesn’t hit it the furthest because he is still growing. His strength is the three to six irons at the moment and that will hold in good stead in the majors.”
This article was written by Ewan Murray at Doral, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 1st March 2016 21.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010