Weekly Recap: Fitzpatrick Finds the Magic

Weekly Recap: Fitzpatrick Finds the Magic

This article is part of our Weekly Recap series.

Just because someone is the proverbial 'Best Player to Have Never Won a PGA Tour Event' or the 'Best Player to Have Never Won a Major' doesn't mean he will ever win one. History is littered with guys who were supposed to win but never did.

Those pejorative tags tend to fall on international golfers, because the U.S. golf community rightly or wrongly balks at anyone who hasn't won "here."

Entering the 122nd U.S. Open, Matt Fitzpatrick of England probably wasn't either Best guy, though he was on the very short list. The same for American Will Zalatoris.

The two of them staged a riveting duel from the final pairing at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. on Sunday, with Fitzpatrick winning by a single stroke at 6-under-par after Zalatoris' final birdie try from 14 feet on the 72nd hole agonizingly missed by a mere inch to the left. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler tied Zalatoris for second, similarly missing a birdie putt on 18 out of the penultimate pairing.

Fitzpatrick has been "coming" for more than a decade, from his stellar junior days in England to the top of the amateur ranks while at Northwestern to winning the 2013 U.S. Amateur – also at Brookline – to being low amateur at the 2013 Open Championship to being low amateur at the 2014 U.S. Open to cracking the top 50 for the first time in 2015 to winning seven times on the DP World Tour.

That is quite a

Just because someone is the proverbial 'Best Player to Have Never Won a PGA Tour Event' or the 'Best Player to Have Never Won a Major' doesn't mean he will ever win one. History is littered with guys who were supposed to win but never did.

Those pejorative tags tend to fall on international golfers, because the U.S. golf community rightly or wrongly balks at anyone who hasn't won "here."

Entering the 122nd U.S. Open, Matt Fitzpatrick of England probably wasn't either Best guy, though he was on the very short list. The same for American Will Zalatoris.

The two of them staged a riveting duel from the final pairing at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. on Sunday, with Fitzpatrick winning by a single stroke at 6-under-par after Zalatoris' final birdie try from 14 feet on the 72nd hole agonizingly missed by a mere inch to the left. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler tied Zalatoris for second, similarly missing a birdie putt on 18 out of the penultimate pairing.

Fitzpatrick has been "coming" for more than a decade, from his stellar junior days in England to the top of the amateur ranks while at Northwestern to winning the 2013 U.S. Amateur – also at Brookline – to being low amateur at the 2013 Open Championship to being low amateur at the 2014 U.S. Open to cracking the top 50 for the first time in 2015 to winning seven times on the DP World Tour.

That is quite a progression.

But – and there's almost always that but – he didn't do it on the PGA Tour. Some might have said he couldn't do it on the PGA Tour.

Fitzpatrick finished seventh at the 2016 Masters and it seemed like he was on his way. Except in his next 20 majors he couldn't crack the top 10. Coming into Brookline, he wound up second only one time on the PGA Tour – at Bay Hill in 2019 – and third only once, at the 2020 Memorial.

Seven years after cracking the top 50 in the world rankings he had never gotten into the top 10. Seems typical, right?

Then came 2022. Top-10s in four of his first five starts. Then a 14th at the Masters, a runner-up at the Wells Fargo and finally a fifth at the PGA Championship, although as the most established golfer on the top of that leaderboard he still couldn't get it done. If he couldn't defeat all those never-won-anythings, then when?

Never mind that Fitzpatrick was ranked top-25 in every Strokes Gained stat, something not done even by the best golfers, and sat first in Strokes Gained: Total. That could be viewed as one way to determine the best golfer. Cliché, sure, but he was doing everything but win. And in today's culture, if you don't win, you ain't the best.

But Fitzpatrick clearly, as he had been for a decade, was coming. What changed for him this year? Two things of note. One – and this has been gradual over the past few years – he has added about 20 yards off the tee to 298, which is a very respectable 63rd on Tour. A more pronounced change has been with his chipping. He now chips cross-handed and has been doing it for about a year. The two previous seasons Fitzpatrick ranked 138th and then 97th in SG: Around-the-Green. This season, he's ranked ninth.

And now, to match all those stats, Fitzpatrick is a first-time PGA Tour winner, a major winner and ranked 10th in the world.

As we all do 15 seconds after a guy wins his first tournament – not to mention his first major – we wonder when he will win his second. The Open Championship is right around the corner. But this was such a monumental life-altering game-changer that another win so soon would be a huge ask. 

It's hard to believe Fitzpatrick is only the fourth Englishman in more than a half century to win a major: Tony Jacklin (two majors), Nick Faldo (six) and Justin Rose (one) are the others.

Where will Fitzpatrick end up? It won't be six. Could it be two? Maybe.

After an epic Sunday at Brookline, it will always be at least one.

MONDAY BACKSPIN

Will Zalatoris
Yeah, he's still never won a tournament. But, c'mon, has anyone ever come closer more often without doing it? There's really not that much that needs to be said here. We all know he's gonna win, and soon, and often. Zalatoris is ranked 12th in the world but would anyone be surprised if he's one day No. 1?

Scottie Scheffler
Speaking of No. 1, Scheffler now has a commanding lead over new No. 2 Rory McIlroy in world-ranking points. Sure, Scheffler hasn't won since the Masters, five whole tournaments, but he's finished second twice in that span. The winning stretch earlier this season was unsustainable, but it sure seems as if Scheffler will win again before season's end, maybe more than once.

Hideki Matsuyama
Matsuyama shot the round of the tournament on Sunday, a 5-under 65, to get into the clubhouse early at 3-under. It didn't seem out of the question that that might be good enough for a playoff, but he wound up solo fourth. Matsuyama has won twice this season, including at the Sony in January, but since then has not been as consistently great as Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris and Scheffler. That's to be expected from poorer putters. Those guys are money most weeks. With Matsuyama, you have to pick your spots.

Rory McIlroy
You could argue that McIlroy is now playing at a level he hasn't been on in years. He's won twice this season. He's now gone 2-8-T5 in the three 2022 majors with Sunday's tie for fifth. He's up to No. 2 in the world, where he hadn't been in two years. You could also still fairly point out that it's now more than eight years since he last one a major. 

Collin Morikawa
Morikawa was the 36-hole leader, shot himself out of the tournament with a Saturday 77, then roared back with a 66 to tie McIlroy for fifth. It was widely discussed during the week at Morikawa's famed cut has abandoned him, and he's now relying more on a draw. Even though he now has T5s at two of the three majors this year, Morikawa hasn't won in more than a year and he isn't the same guy without that cut. A winless season is very much in play, however unfathomable that seemed six months ago.

Denny McCarthy (T7), Adam Hadwin (T7), Keegan Bradley (T7), Gary Woodland (T10), Joel Dahmen (T10)
All five of these guys secured berths in the 2023 Open by virtue of finishing in the top-10, though Woodland was already exempt as the 2019 winner. For the others, a return was no sure thing.  For Bradley, it was his best major in eight years and for the other three it was their best major ever.  The top-6 on the leaderboard were flat-out stars. These five secondary guys were outstanding. For McCarthy, Hadwin and Dahmen especially, the confidence boost should be significant, though it's quite possible they will never match this major high ever again.

Jon Rahm
Rahm tied for 12th and that could've been quite different if he hadn't shot a Sunday 74. But this was just the latest evidence that he's not quite the same golfer as he was last year. Rahm is now down to No. 3 OWGR.

Seamus Power
The 35-year-old Power never played in a major until this year. Not only has he made all three cuts, he's gone T27-T9-T12 and is ranked a career-best 36th OWGR. Talk about a late bloomer.

Patrick Cantlay
Cantlay tied for 14th. He's now gone 12 straight majors without a top-10. It doesn't make any sense.

Brooks Koepka
The two-time U.S. Open winner was on the fringe of contention after 36 holes but a 75-77 weekend left him tied for 55th.  It wasn't that long ago that Koepka was the most feared guy in golf. Maybe his swagger isn't gone, but at some point you have to back it up. No one is afraid of  him anymore.

Big-name MCs
Two top-10s, six more top-25s and 18 more top-60s, which we cite since the top-60 and ties made the cut. So that's 27 of the top-60 golfers trunk-slamming, and it's really worse than that since there were three top-60s who weren't even in the field. We won't get into all of them but we'll note that while Open tracks normally aren't the best fit for No. 6 Cameron Smith, this Open course should have fit his game better. And No. 8 Viktor Hovland has simply been terrible in majors, still having never recorded a top-10. Billy Horschel, at No. 11, is another guy who has almost always played beneath his skill level in majors. No. 24 Shane Lowry was one of the biggest surprises. We thought No. 56 Webb Simpson would find Brookline a good fit, but he missed the cut on the number.

LIV Golf
It was largely a terrible week for guys who either played the LIV opener or have said they will play going forward. Only four of the 15 made the cut: Dustin Johnson (T24), Richard Bland (T43), Patrick Reed (T49) and Bryson DeChambeau (T56). Among the MCs were Louis Oosthuizen, Talor Gooch, Kevin Na, Sergio Garcia and, of course, Phil Mickelson. All in all, it was a terrible week for Mickelson, who we won't see outside of LIV until his next terrible week at the Open Championship next month.

Jim Furyk
The 2003 Open winner qualified by winning the 2021 Senior Open Championship. He missed the cut, but only by one shot. The 52-year-old Furyk is one month older than Phil Mickelson and beat him by seven strokes. Furyk has played only three PGA Tour events in 2022, making the cut at the Sony and missing at the RBC Heritage. In order to get back to the Open in 2023, Furyk will need to win another Senior Open, which is coming up this week at Saucon Valley in Pennsylvania. That's a home game for Furyk and eminently doable.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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