20 Jun 2022 | Professional golf |

Clayton: Fitzpatrick's game as solid as Sheffield steel

by Mike Clayton

Matt Fitzpatrick's shot from the fairway bunker on the 72nd hole of the US Open will be recalled for years to come.
Matt Fitzpatrick's shot from the fairway bunker on the 72nd hole of the US Open will be recalled for years to come.

It’s unsurprising the golf course where a player learns the game shapes the game they play.

Hallamshire Golf Club is a course high up above industrial Sheffield and whilst not the best course in England - a high bar to be fair - it’s a fine one with its share of very difficult shots and demanding holes made to form a game as solid as the steel forged in Sheffield for generations.

Matt Fitzpatrick, the new US Open champion, grew up playing at Hallamshire where the weather by Australian standards is often awful, the greens are small, the fairways narrower than the norm and hitting it past the pin at the par three, ninth hole (think behind the hole at Royal Melbourne’s sixth) will leave you with exactly the putt Fitzpatrick faced on the 17th green to take a two-shot lead to the 72nd tee of the U.S Open.

Predictably, sensibly, and somewhat sheepishly, he dribbled it down the hill, made his par and went to the 72nd tee with the barest of leads over his playing partner Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler already in the clubhouse with 275.

All had their chances but inevitably at a course as difficult as The Country Club the winner is determined by a single twist of fate, and so it was.

Fitzpatrick, wary of running a driver through the fairway on the right, drove left with a 3-wood and into the fairway bunker guarding the inside corner of the dogleg. The ‘walk-in’ coming down from of the right edge of the bunker was almost on a direct line to the green. ‘Almost’ was however just enough to give him a clear line to the green and a good player with a strong left-hand grip has, by necessity, trained himself to move the ball from left to right. The fade was exactly the shot Fitzpatrick needed and years from now the nine-iron from the sand will be as recalled as Sandy Lyle’s 1988 fairway bunker, seven iron at Augusta.

In the end Fitzpatrick won because he hit the ball better than the rest. Missing only three of 14 fairways and one of 18 greens on Sunday at a U.S Open is a staggering accomplishment, one statistically surpassed only by David Graham at Merion 41 years ago.

The game is wildly different now in the era of great power, something the winner recognised a couple of years ago when he determined to add club head speed to his driver. Driving his ball onto the tiny, par four, fifth hole was evidence enough of the worth of adding six or seven miles-per-hour and he admitted that “there was no way I could have hit that green two years ago”.

The course itself was a ‘typical’ U.S Open course with narrow fairways lined by high grass and bunkers surrounded by the same (it’s always a curiosity for Australians to see bunkers as havens from the long grass around them) and whilst it’s no model to follow for the rest of the game, it found the best hitter and what more can a course ask?

From here, in the weeks to come the game and both its professional organisations and players are asked a much different question.

Where is it headed? Who is leaving for a tour offering, in some cases, hundreds of millions of dollars to a single player and with no requisite to turn a profit, attract television ratings nor satisfy the demands of commercial sponsors looking to promote what they are selling?

Rumours abound about the names of potential deserters, and no one truly knows what the future holds.

Many think it has the potential to blow the PGA Tour in the United States apart. Others wonder if the European Tour will fall into the proverbial bed with Greg Norman’s rebel tour with its promise of riches unimagined to generations past.

Until the players congregate in St Andrews a few weeks from now, you can be sure the talk will be of little else.

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