Fitzpatrick a familiar face in U.S. Amateur match play
16 Aug 2018
by Julie Williams of AmateurGolf.com

see also: U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, Cherry Hills Country Club, Alex Fitzpatrick Rankings

Alex Fitzpatrick (AGC photo)
Alex Fitzpatrick (AGC photo)

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (Aug. 16, 2018) – Alex Fitzpatrick strode off the second green at Pebble Beach for a second time early Thursday afternoon, looking very different from the picture of himself that had been circulating social media all morning. Fitzpatrick is now 19, a player in his own right and without some of the softness featured in a throwback image retrieved by his older brother.

Five years ago, Fitzpatrick went the full eight rounds on the bag for older brother Matthew, now a professional with four European Tour victories to his credit. Matthew won that year at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Alex was 14, telling jokes to calm his brother on the final hole of the championship match and offering his opinion sparingly.

“His level of golf was excellent, and I thought it was the best week of golf I’ve had so far,” a young Alex, clad in his red caddie bib, told the USGA on camera at the end of the week. At the end of the interview, Alex explained that he’d caddie more if his brother needed it, but there was his own golf game to attend to.

Half a decade later, it’s on full display. With a lack of feel for his irons Thursday morning in the Round of 32, the Englishman had to lean hard on his short game. It held up beautifully.

“I can’t say I played my best golf out there today,” Fitzpatrick said. “Struggled with driver, struggled with irons, luckily my short game was OK today. That saved me quite a lot.”

Fitzpatrick, playing his first U.S. Amateur, drew Argentina’s Jesus Montenegro in the second round. Montenegro knocked off World No. 1 Braden Thornberry in the first round. His work around the greens on Thursday shined, too.

The pair threw out only three birdies over the first nine holes before the match stalled in Montenegro’s favor at the turn. One down, Fitzpatrick sharpened his wedges and charged.

Fitzpatrick, who guesses he hit less than nine greens in a match that went 20 holes, squared it at No. 12 when he blasted out of a front bunker and hung his ball on the lip. Another deft pitch out of sand right of No. 13 left him even with Montenegro.

Fitzpatrick failed to make par from the sand on No. 17, and trailed on the 18th tee. When Montenegro pulled his drive into Stillwater Cove, it prompted a long conversation between Fitzpatrick and caddie John Pak. Fitzpatrick already had driver in his hand.

“I told him to still hit driver, there’s actually a lot more room than you think,” said Pak, a Florida State sophomore who had failed to make it through match play this week. “It’s a scary tee shot but the way I just explained it is there’s 50 yards of room you can work with and that’s a lot. You’re not going to miss it more than 25 yards on each side, so just trust it.”

Fitzpatrick found a right fairway bunker, bounced from there to a left fairway bunker, then stuck it to 30 feet and two-putted for par to force extra holes. He ultimately won at the second, with a par set up by a 197-yard 9-iron to the front of the green. It was a last-minute bit of redemption on a shaky day of ball striking.

“My iron play has been really good for the last three or four years,” Fitzpatrick said on the way to grab lunch and hit a small bucket of balls before his afternoon match. “It’s been pretty consistent.”

Even though Fitzpatrick has been a participant in a U.S. Amateur championship run, he didn’t receive much sage or secret advice from his older brother, who is playing the Wyndham Championship on an opposite coast this week.

“’Good luck,’” Fitzpatrick said when asked to repeat Matthew’s pre-championships words. “That was it.”

When Fitzpatrick’s week in Pebble Beach is over, it’s on to North Carolina. Like his brother, Fitzpatrick will play college golf in the U.S., but it will be at Wake Forest instead of Northwestern. Matthew Fitzpatrick only stayed on campus for a quarter, but Alex’s thought process suggests his stay will be longer.

When Alex tweeted news of his commitment in May 2017, he did it this way: “Extremely happy to say I have made a verbal commitment to play golf at Wake Forest in 2018. Hopefully last longer than my brother.”

Already this year Alex has finished runner-up at the Spanish International Amateur, was fourth in the Irish Amateur Open and tied for 21st in the European Amateur. A stateside victory could be next on the list.

ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur

The U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship, was first played in 1895 at Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island. The event, which has no age restriction, is open to those with a Handicap Index of 2.4 or lower. It is one of 14 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. It is the pre-eminent amateur competition in the world. Applications are typically placed online in the spring at www.usga.org.

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