U.S. Am champ Fitzpatrick faces new tests - in college

By Ryan LavnerAugust 19, 2013, 1:30 am

BROOKLINE, Mass. – The texts were rolling in, 35 and counting, but this message caught Matt Fitzpatrick’s eye.

With a lesson scheduled for next Saturday in England, his coach, Mike Walker, tapped out a note in the wake of the U.S. Amateur final:

So, what on earth do we work on now?

Good question. 

For seven days here, Fitzpatrick left little doubt as to who was the best player in the 113th U.S. Amateur, capping his week with a commanding 4-and-3 victory over Oliver Goss in Sunday’s scheduled 36-hole final at The Country Club. 

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Five of Fitzpatrick’s six matches this week were decided by the 15th hole, a dominating performance for a player who, at 18 years, 11 months and 17 days, became the fourth-youngest champion in tournament history. The new No. 1-ranked amateur in the world now has a spot in next year’s first three majors.

Even now, there are so few weaknesses in his game. Sure, Fitzpatrick will eventually need to hit the ball longer (his average drive is about 280 yards), and he needs to develop a higher ball flight. But he’ll pack muscle onto his 5-foot-9-inch, 135-pound frame – just give him a few months with the college strength-and-conditioning coach and nutritionist. 

The weakness part of his repertoire? Well, all week he hinted at a usually suspect short game. Those are exceptionally high standards, apparently, because after watching his opponent drain three putts of more than 20-plus feet in the opening 18-hole session Sunday, Goss marveled, “I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s the best putter I’ve ever seen. It was hard to watch.”

And it may only get worse for opponents. 

In three weeks, Fitzpatrick will report to Northwestern for the first day of team practice. Who is his coach for (presumably) the next four years? Pat Goss, the man largely responsible for turning Luke Donald into the short-game assassin who ascended to world No. 1. 

“Matt is starting to believe how good he is and how good he can be,” Goss said. “But he has no sense of, ‘Oh, I’ve figured it all out.’ That’s a good recipe for success.”

Not much will change once Fitzpatrick arrives in Evanston. Expectations will shift, just as they do for every national champion, but especially for one who became the first Englishman in more than a century to win the U.S. Amateur. He won’t see his girlfriend as often. He won’t have the British media “chasing” him. 

But mostly, he’ll be a normal 18-year-old kid on campus, with a full course load, late nights and good friends. 

And, finally, a primary focus on golf. 

That hasn’t been the case for the past few years, as Fitzpatrick crammed for the A-level exams. In short, they’re SATs on steroids. Students study for two years – in his case, in the subjects of geography, history and sports science – to take a test that decides their future. “They say that they’re the hardest exams that you’ll ever take,” he said. 

They consumed his life, and each year the intense studying affected his game. His father would come home from work to see Matt’s head buried in his books. Every four days or so, he would grab the clubs and practice for an hour. That’s it. He skipped many of England’s biggest amateur events to focus on his studies.

“He’s not a gifted academic, not a straight-A student,” said Fitzpatrick’s father, Russell. “He has had to work really hard to get here.”

The exam scores were announced this past Thursday, before the U.S. Amateur’s Round of 32. Fitzpatrick scrolled through his Twitter and Facebook feeds and noticed all of his friends were panicking, because, he said, “it does decide their life, really.” Where they go to school. What they’re going to pursue.

He took immense pride in preparing as well as possible (two Cs and a B), even if his path to Northwestern was clear. 

“Whatever he eventually wins,” Russell Fitzpatrick said, “that’s the best prize he’s got. A great education.”

But with so much success, so soon, at such a young age, it’s natural to wonder how long Fitzpatrick will spend in school, or whether the allure of the mega-million Tour life will prove to be too much of a temptation for another talented youngster.

The Fitzpatrick family has a four-year college plan in place, however, no matter how impressive and mature Matt has seemed this summer in earning low-amateur honors at the British Open and winning the U.S. Amateur, all in a four-week span. 

“This might be as good as it ever gets,” Russell Fitzpatrick said. “You just never know. Professional sport is really, really tough. I’ve seen players turn pro, and we never hear from them again. If he decides to play professional golf someday, he has no pressure because he knows he has a fallback option. If he turns pro after one year and it doesn’t work out, and he doesn’t have a degree, if he’s just a flash in the pan, then what’s he go with?”

Rest assured, Fitzpatrick is no flash in the pan, not with his textbook, repeatable swing and soft hands around the green.

On Sunday, after seven days of sun and wind, The Country Club turned into a veritable U.S. Open test. Some holes were brutally long. The greens were “rock-hard.” The rough was ankle-deep.

And Matt Fitzpatrick led for all but four of the 33 holes and defeated the 13th-ranked amateur in the world, quite handily in fact. 

So, what on earth is there to work on?

Right now, with the gold Havemeyer Trophy beside him, the answer was clear:

Not much … except, perhaps, his new college course schedule.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.