Quiet Fitzpatrick continues to make noise with clubs

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2017, 7:57 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Don’t let the baby face fool you.

Matthew Fitzpatrick has heard all the jokes before. He knows his fresh-faced appearance makes him seem more likely to be someone’s pro-am partner on Wednesday than playing partner on Thursday.

Every time he walks by Jason Day, he still gets needled about the time last year at Doral when he forgot his players’ credential and couldn’t get past the locker room attendant until Day popped out and vouched for him.

Then there was the time at the 2014 Open Championship when someone saw him carrying around a bag of Nike balls on the range at Hoylake and thought he was Tiger Woods’ ball boy.

But as Fitzpatrick has shown through two rounds at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, looks can be deceiving.

“He looks like he’s 12,” said Harold Varner after playing alongside Fitzpatrick for the first two days at Bay Hill. “But he plays like a grown man.”

The soft-spoken Englishman has displayed a steady hand this week despite some early weather conditions that seemed more suitable for London than Orlando. An opening 67 was followed by a 3-under 69, and he sits two shots adrift of Charley Hoffman after making just two bogeys through 36 holes.

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

His appearance on a leaderboard might come as a surprise to some casual fans in the U.S., but at age 22 Fitzpatrick has already more than earned standing in Europe. Now he has an opportunity to let his game do the talking on this side of the Atlantic.

Does he still get carded for R-rated movies, let alone bars? Perhaps. But beneath the youthful visage lies some serious game.

“I think the image doesn’t help him gain the respect that he deserves,” said Graeme McDowell. “I’ve played with him a few times and I probably can’t get my head around how good he is, because he continues to post good numbers on big, tough golf courses.”

Those credentials include three wins already on the European Tour, highlighted by a victory at the season finale in Dubai in November that Fitzpatrick called “massive” for his confidence.

He also made his first Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine and originally burst onto the national stage when he cruised to victory at the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club.

“I think that it’s not Matt’s demeanor to put himself out there,” said Rory McIlroy. “He’s a quiet kid, and he gets his business done, and he does it very efficiently and very well.”

Fitzpatrick is used to the questions and comments, and takes them each in stride. But he’s also not in a rush to see fans – or competitors – size him up as anything but an unassuming underdog.

“I don’t really mind that. I think it’s quite funny,” he said. “I would rather that than people think, ‘Oh, he’s going to win every week.’ I can’t really imagine the sort of pressure that Rory and Jason Day and those guys have. It’s probably tough to keep up with.”

Fitzpatrick may work his way into their company before too long. He entered this week ranked No. 30 in the world and has finished T-16 at each of the season’s first two WGC events. Then there was his run up the leaderboard during the final round at last year’s Masters, when a closing 67 gave him a share of seventh place and ensured he’d make a return trip this spring.

“He’s such an unassuming lad. He looks like he’s 15 years old, still in high school,” McDowell said. “He just doesn’t look like he fits out here, even though he’s probably right now one of the top 10 or 20 players in the world.”

Fitzpatrick is now presented with an enticing opportunity this weekend as he looks to diversify his playing schedule. He has yet to earn a PGA Tour card, but his goal this season is to earn special temporary membership with eyes on a fully-fledged card for next season.

Fitzpatrick’s girlfriend, Lydia Cassada, is finishing up her degree this spring at Northwestern, and he hopes to relocate to the U.S. perhaps as soon as next year, with the plan to play a full slate on both the PGA and European tours. That specific location remains to be seen, and will likely depend on where Cassada finds a job after graduation.

Perhaps he’s not that different from a typical 22-year-old after all.

But Fitzpatrick’s options may widen considerably should he win this week at Bay Hill, where the tournament’s three-year exemption would give him status in the U.S. through August 2020.

Who knows, by then he might even look the part.

“He’s a legit player,” McDowell said. “It’s only a matter of time before he plays his way into people starting to understand that he’s the real deal.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.