It is just as well Matt Fitzpatrick has retained his sense of humour. Otherwise questions surrounding his participation in the Ryder Cup – which have been going on for just short of 11 months – could have reduced the 21-year-old to a rambling wreck.
Fitzpatrick smiles broadly when asked what he could possibly discuss when the forthcoming meeting of the United States and Europe has come and gone. “I don’t know. Sheffield United?” the Yorkshireman said. “I’m embracing it all now. I should maybe just start making things up. – ‘I’m going to be on the team, I’m going to do that.’ No, I’m joking.
“I’ve had it since the points table began [in 2015]. Two weeks after that was the British Masters, I won that and went straight to the top of the rankings. I have been in the team the most so far, so that’s why I’ve had this conversation for so long.”
There is a deeper cause for such chatter. Fitzpatrick now finds himself clinging to the last automatic qualifying berth for Darren Clarke’s European team as the process nears its end. It would seem cruel for Fitzpatrick to be denied an appearance at Hazeltine, if only because of that rocket-fuelled run at the tail end of 2015 in which he had five finishes of 13th or better in October and November.
A new year did not bring continued success, understandably given Fitzpatrick’s youth. He has been a professional for little over two years, meaning inconsistency has an explanation. This run has consequences, however, with what the 2013 US Amateur champion is happy to admit is “the big one” on the horizon.
“It is difficult. Obviously the Ryder Cup means a lot,” Fitzpatrick says. “You have to try and not try too hard. It would be an amazing experience. Hopefully I could bring as many points as possible but I also get on well with a lot of the guys. I know everyone that is on that team right now. I think that is a big thing. If morale is good, then it makes a good start to the week.”
Another smile appears when Fitzpatrick considers the relief when he knows for sure whether he is part of Clarke’s group. “I think so but then we will be on to the next thing and I’ll start panicking about that,” he said. “I’m joking; obviously it will be nice for this to be over and we can see where we are.”
This US PGA Championship represented a positive step for Fitzpatrick, given his survival for the weekend. “I missed three of the last four cuts by one shot,” he said. “It is a nice change to be here for the weekend and I enjoyed that a lot more despite the frustration of missing putts.”
In the weather-affected final major of 2016 Fitzpatrick closed out on Sunday with a bogey-free 67, for a total of one under par. “It was a great way to finish,” he added. “I need to take a proper break at some point, because I’ve been playing far too much golf. The reason why I’ve done it is obvious but hopefully you won’t see as much of me next year.”
His next stop is Scotland, for a match play event on the European Tour that clearly has significance, given format and timing. “It will be nice, something different,” Fitzpatrick said. “With the schedule, if it was stroke play, then I probably wouldn’t be playing.”
Earlier in US PGA week Clarke offered public backing to Fitzpatrick, for whom the Northern Irishman believes results do not tell a proper story.
“It’s a big deal for a young guy,” Clarke said. “He’s pushing himself too hard. He’s trying too hard. I’ve suggested to him to relax a little bit and enjoy it.”
Clarke pointed out how Fitzpatrick’s statistical performance, finishes aside, is actually fine. “Oh really? That was nice,” Fitzpatrick said.
“That’s true, though tee to green I haven’t been feeling 100% but the stats have still been pretty decent. I’m hitting greens without hitting the ball perfectly so that’s a good thing. I think being within the same management group means we know each other pretty well anyway. He is an older guy, a major winner and multiple tour winner, so he has always been someone I like speaking to and who has been very good with me.”
Fitzpatrick would “understand” if a batch of rookies on the European team works against him being given a captain’s pick, should it be required. That is, with a caveat.
“You say rookies but not everyone is 21,” he said. “I’d certainly bring the age average down. Chris Wood is a three-time winner on tour, Danny Willett is a major winner, Andy Sullivan is a three-time winner on tour, who has had a great year so far. I wouldn’t be worried about them at all. They are obviously all playing well. They are in the team for a reason.”
So is Fitzpatrick. He just has to hold on.
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