Matt Fitzpatrick has emerged as one of Europe’s biggest stars after overhauling his game and mindset. Now he wants to make his mark in the Ryder Cup after a double dose of disappointment.
Matt Fitzpatrick is sitting in the snooker room of Hallamshire Golf Club in his hometown of Sheffield, trying to put a positive spin on a rotten Ryder Cup record that almost defies belief.
There’s not a great deal the baby-faced Englishman hasn’t done in the game, but failing to register even half a point for the blue and gold brigade ranks among his greatest frustrations.
You have to go all the way back to 1963 and Thomas Haliburton, a long-time pro at Wentworth, to find the last golfer to appear in two of the biennial events and lose all his matches. It’s an unwanted record that Fitzpatrick equaled at Whistling Straits, despite performing well all week, and one he plans to put right as one of the European Ryder Cup team heading for Rome.
“The stats (in 2021) had me in the top 10 out of both teams,” he says, ruffling his hand through his hair. “In the singles, me and Daniel Berger were about 14-under combined for 18 holes. It was a really tight match… I just didn’t have a great last hole.”
The making of Matt Fitzpatrick
The defeat to a rampant American team, the largest margin of victory in a Ryder Cup since 1967, has been hard to get over, but there is also an argument that it proved to be the making of Matt Fitzpatrick.
The 28-year-old won on his very next start at Valderrama and soon started to gain a reputation for the distance gains he was making after following a weighted speed training program known as the Stack System. The results were seismic.
After posting his first top 10 in a Major for six years at the USA PGA Championship, he made an even bigger statement four weeks later, flushing ‘the shot of his life’ from the fairway bunker on the 72nd hole of the US Open to beat Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris by a shot.
His breakthrough moment became such a big story that the producers of Full Swing, the PGA Tour’s Netflix series, dedicated a whole episode to him and his victory at Brookline.
“Yeah, that was pretty crazy,” he says, laughing.
The exposure has raised his profile, as well as expectations that he should be challenging for wins more often. Victory at Harbour Town in April at the RBC Heritage was supposed to kick start his season, but so far it has been a rare high among a middling set of results.
“I’ve only had three top 10s so far,” he says, regrettably. “That’s disappointing. I want to be competing more than that. Obviously, I had an injury at the start of the year, so February and March were a bit of a write-off.
“I lost eight weeks of good practice, good stuff in the gym, and that’s fed into the rest of the season, putting me behind the eight ball.
“I’ve still got that win, but my game is not where I want it to be right now, if I’m honest. I’m not driving it as well as I usually do. That’s the only thing really holding me back, I feel like everything else is performing pretty well.”
What is so striking about Fitzpatrick is how exacting he is about every facet of his game. He turned a lot of heads when he shared his goal of equaling Sir Nick Faldo’s British record of six Majors in his winner’s speech at Brookline, but he sees no reason to aim small when his coaches and stats say his ceiling is so high.
His work ethic remains his greatest strength and it’s clear he’s not afraid to think outside of the box. He uses his cack-handed chipping technique as one example and proceeds to reel off a set of statistics that convinced his coach Mike Walker that it was the best method for him.
He is humble enough to admit that not every experiment has paid off, but there is a confidence and clarity about his game now which wasn’t always there a couple of years ago.
There is an expectation, at least, that he will play a far bigger role in the Ryder Cup this year than he did under Padraig Harrington in 2021 and Darren Clarke in 2016, when he was dropped for both fourballs sessions. He chooses his words carefully when asked how it made him feel, but there does feel something slightly pointed in his response.
“They were still great experiences, but obviously I wanted to play more than I actually did,” he admits. “One thing I learned is that you really have to play a fourball to really understand how the golf course is playing. I feel that’s really important, but I haven’t had a taste of it yet.”
I’ll play with anyone
He is more effusive in his praise for Luke Donald but remains tight-lipped about the conversations they’ve had, except for saying that he has no preference on who he plays with.
He is the first to acknowledge that his risk-averse nature is not entirely suited to matchplay and stops to consider whether he feels he has something to prove after five consecutive losses. He searches hard for a smile.
“I would say I have probably got a point to prove,” he replies. “It’s one of those where I played well enough to qualify the previous two times, so I definitely feel like I belong there. I don’t feel like I need to prove that to anyone, but maybe I need to prove to myself that I can win a point for Europe.”
Fitzpatrick still retains the same boyish looks and innocence he had when we interviewed him ahead of his debut in 2016, but there is now an acceptance that he is looked upon as one of the leaders in the locker room.
It’s a role he says he’s not entirely comfortable with, but Donald needs his senior players to step up in the absence of Westwood, Poulter and Garcia. Fitzpatrick is a reluctant leader in that sense.
“I wouldn’t say I don’t like it, it’s just unusual taking a senior role at 28,” he says, smiling. “At the same time, it definitely feels like a changing of the guard. We’ve obviously got some younger players coming through now, like Sepp (Straka), Ludvig Aberg, Bobby Mac (Bob MacIntyre).
“I mean, the average World Ranking of the US team is clearly going to be lower than ours. So, with that, you’ve got to put us down as being the underdogs. But, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s almost better for us.
“We’ve got nothing to lose and the pressure is all on them. We saw what happened in Paris and I feel like the course will suit us. I genuinely think we can do it.”
Fitzpatrick competes in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth before he heads off to Italy for his and Europe’s shot at redemption.
The relentless nature of the schedule means there is little time to rest, especially now he’s got a wedding to plan as well, but the grin on his face suggests he wouldn’t want it any other way. Despite the fame and fortune, he remains the same kid from Sheffield, living out his boyhood dream.
“To be part of the Ryder Cup is so special, it’s 10 times better than I ever thought it would be,” he smiles. “Even the losses were such great experiences, but to win it in Europe would mean the world.
“For me just to get some points on the board would be a nice start. But all I can do is contribute the best I can. Hopefully, that will be enough to get us over the line.”
Thanks to Skechers for arranging this interview. For details, see skechers.co.uk
About the author
Today’s Golfer Features Editor
Michael Catling is Today’s Golfer‘s Features Editor and an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.
Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with dozens of Major champions, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Justin Thomas.
A former member of Ufford Park and Burghley Park, Michael has been playing golf since he was 11 and currently plays off a handicap of 10.
Away from golf he’s a keen amateur chef and has his own healthy recipes website. He also loves playing squash, going to the gym, and following Chelsea FC.