I don’t know about you but the last time I was in a fairway bunker with 160 yards to the green (at Pacific Dunes), I was thinking more about just getting out than reaching the green. But when England’s Matt Fitzpatrick found himself in this situation on the last hole of the 2022 U.S. Open needing a par to win and knowing anything less might cost him this most coveted tournament, he confidently chose his club, after discussing it with his caddie Billy Foster, and, without hesitation, hit one of the most amazing shots, given the circumstances, arguably, in golf history. It finished 15 feet from the hole, whereupon he two putted and won, after Will Zalatoris missed his 14 footer for a tie by about a 16th of an inch beneath the cup.
Again, arguably, it was the most exciting U.S. Open I’ve ever witnessed in my 60 odd years of watching this event.
What an amazing game we play–a game that requires a certain proficiency in eye hand coordination, body movement synchrony, timing, and rhythm, and mental resilience and strength. As with many sports, it does not require a particularly high IQ, but it does reward the golfer who can play each shot mutually exclusive from the results of the preceding shot. In other words, Matt Fitzpatrick was not particularly affected by the ill advised tee shot that got him into such trouble and after clearing his head of any regrets or even thoughts of that shot, was able to approach this intimidating approach shot with a mind clear of any negativity whatsoever. With a pretty much enlightened mind free of thought and totally in the present, he was able to pull off a shot that essentially won him the United States Open golf tournament and a permanent, honored place in golf history.
How many of you, including me, could have done that? Hyperbole, yes, but I put it up there with Churchill, Patton, and Ike when all seemed lost in WWII!
So what can we learn from young Matthew Fitzpatrick? To paraphrase Bob Dylan: Learn your game well before you start playing. To play this game with a clear mind, you must have confidence in what you are doing. To have confidence, you must be well trained, well practiced, and well experienced in failure. Yes, golf has more to do with how you handle poor shots than with great ones. The great ones will happen after you’ve experienced enough poor ones, and instead of becoming discouraged by them, you go on to figure out why they happened and how to transform them into successful ones.
Matt also has a vast array of arrows in his quiver that covers just about any shot that may arise in this challenging game. Shots like the approach on 15 off of, what? wood chips of some sort. How did he know how to hit such a shot? What range has wood chips to practice on? What range has fairway bunkers to practice on? What range has pool table greens to practice on? But Matt found a way to develop skills which applied to all of these and more.
Nick Faldo, who knows Fitzpatrick well, said that such skills are built over time. He said Matt has kept a golf journal of all his shots over the years. Details. Stats. And slowly his skills increased, not by luck or experience alone, but by his discipline to take the time and effort to micro-examine his game–a game that requires such self exploration if one wants to improve. And, as Faldo also said recently on Golf Channel, a serious golfer is never satisfied, also wanting to improve and find ways to do so. Tiger and Sir Nick were such serious golfers, as is Matt Fitz.
Fitzpatrick plays fast, a welcome trait in a game that is played much too slowly on professional and recreational levels. But to play this demanding game quickly one needs to know how to play the game without thinking much about the mechanics of the swing or which club to pick for which distance or how to play a bunker shot. The first time Hall of Famer Lannie Watkins played a round of golf as a youngster he broke 80. Before that he learned the fundamentals at the practice range under the tutelage of a pro. The accomplished women pros on the LPGA Tour from South Korea practiced and learned the game for two years before they were permitted to play an actual round of golf.
Fitzpatrick, 27, has won seven times on the European circuit, but had never won on the PGA tour, a sticking point in his career, and the butt of criticism by the UK press. His caddie kept assuring him that his time would come, that he was close. He believed. He trusted. He persisted. He persevered. And finally, he succeeded, winning the greatest prize our Tour has to offer.
Referring to my last couple of posts, if you study the photo of that now famous fairway bunker shot of Matt’s, you will notice his head at impact is in the same position as it was at address and his forward hip has cleared sufficiently to allow his arms and hands freedom to do their thing at impact as well.
Congratulations, Matt. You’re a fabulous golfer, and, from my perspective, an exceptional human being. I wish you nothing but success in the years to come.
Watch this kid in the British Open. This win could be a breakthrough for him.