When Matt Fitzpatrick sized up his shot from a bunker left of the 18th fairway on Sunday in the US Open, a playoff loomed, as it always does at The Country Club.
He led Will Zalatoris and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler by one stroke. In front of him was a large patch of rough-filled turf, as well as a yawning bunker protecting the green and a flag 156 yards away. The stakes were high, with a US Open title on the line.
Fitzpatrick produced the biggest of all the key moments on a back nine that was littered with them.
He described it as “One of the best shots I ever hit.”
Fitzpatrick hit a 9-iron that started over the steep lip, carried the front bunker, and settled 18 feet away for a par for a 2-under 68 that made him a major champion for the first time in his professional career in America.
He became the 13th player to win both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open in his career, and just the second to do so on the same course, when he won the U.S. Amateur at Brookline in 2013. At Pebble Beach, Jack Nicklaus, whose name is on the gold medal hung around his neck, pulled off the trick. At Prairie Dunes, Juli Inkster won the US Women’s Amateur and US Women’s Open.
Fitzpatrick described the feeling as “out of this world.” “It is so cliché, but it’s stuff you dream of as a kid. Yeah, to achieve it, I can retire a happy man tomorrow .”
Zalatoris had a 15-foot birdie to force a playoff after displaying great resiliency during a tough struggle at Brookline. When the putt went over the left edge of the cup, he fell to his knees. He finished second for the third time in the previous seven majors, losing in a playoff to Justin Thomas in the PGA Championship last month.
Zalatoris and Scheffler, who had a lengthier birdie putt to catch Fitzpatrick earlier, gave it their all. Fitzpatrick was confident that his moment had arrived, and he grabbed it.
The party had a familiar feel to it. Fitzpatrick’s parents and younger brother, Alex, who caddied for him in the Amateur, exchanged heartfelt hugs. He stayed with the same family for the rest of his life.
The prize was $3.15 million, plus a title that money can’t buy: major champion.
Nicklaus, the four-time US Open champion, was one of the first to call. Fitzpatrick won the member-member tournament at The Bear’s Club, the South Florida course designed by Jack Nicklaus, and what the Golden Bear said that day was not forgotten.
“He gave me a bit of abuse at the start of the year. He said, ‘Finally. Congratulations for winning in the States,'” Fitzpatrick said. And then, slightly lifting the trophy, Fitzpatrick sent a fun message to Nicklaus: “Jack, I won a second time.”
Fitzpatrick became the first golfer since Graeme McDowell in 2010 to win the U.S. Open on the PGA Tour.
It required a nice break, a signature shot, and a lot of guts to get to the finish line.
Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris were tied coming onto the 15th hole when the Englishman’s tee ball went into the gallery and landed in a decent lie on dead and trampled grass. Zalatoris was buried in dense grass after missing by by a few yards.
From 220 yards, he scorched a 5-iron to 18 feet below the hole. Zalatoris blasted out to 25 feet from the front bunker and made bogey. When Fitzpatrick’s birdie putt went into the cup at such a perfect rate that it didn’t even touch the pin he leaves in the cup, he took a two-shot lead.
“To do that and take advantage of the break I had was fantastic,” Fitzpatrick said.
Zalatoris fought back once again, hitting a difficult pin at the par-3 16th to 7 feet for birdie to trim the deficit to one stroke. On the 17th, both players missed 12-foot birdie opportunities, and Fitzpatrick subsequently lost a fairway at the worst time. Until he hit the shot of his life, it appeared that a playoff was looming. The previous three U.S. Opens at Brookline had all been decided by a playoff.
Fitzpatrick, 27, tied for 6th place with a score of 274. He became the first Englishman to win the US Open since Justin Rose in 2013, and the youngest Englishman to win a major since Tony Jacklin in 1970. He sensed that his time was coming.
Fitzpatrick meticulously records his shots and maintains track of them all to see what needs to be improved. Over the last two years, he has prioritised speed in his swing, giving him the length and confidence to compete with anyone.
That didn’t make Sunday any easier, as it was a three-man fight from the start, with Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy falling behind and never re-entering the fray.
At one point, Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris, who shared the 54-hole lead, each held a two-shot benefit.
Hideki Matsuyama shot 65 for the low round of the week, but he finished at 3-under 277, which was never going to be enough. With a 69, McIlroy finished fourth in the group, four strokes behind Collin Morikawa (66).
Fitzpatrick couldn’t stop grinning as he walked away with the trophy, which was as huge, silver, and gleaming as the US Amateur award, but arguably more meaningful. At the conclusion, there was another poignant moment. Billy Foster, his caddy and one of Europe’s longest-serving and most popular loopers, withdrew the flag from the 18th pin. That is his prize.
“Billy said it for a while to keep doing what you’re doing and the chance will come,” Fitzpatrick said. “It did, and I took it.”