Matthew Fitzpatrick started The Open being mistaken for Tiger Woods’ ball-carrier on the practice range. He ended it taking home a silver medal for the top amateur and being hailed as the latest prodigy in British golf.
The fresh-faced Fitzpatrick’s birth certificate may say he is 18, but he played like a grizzled veteran at times around a treacherous Muirfield course this week.
Paired with Fred Couples – a man nearly three times his age – for the final round, Fitzpatrick shot a 72 on Sunday for an overall score of 10 over, beating fellow amateur and compatriot Jimmy Mullen by five shots.
“I’ll have a few days off and let it all settle down a bit – but I can’t imagine it will,” a grinning Fitzpatrick said. “I think I’ll be on my phone too much.”
Famous names to have won the silver medal down the years include Rory McIlroy (2007), Justin Rose (1998) and Jose Maria Olazabal (1985), so Fitzpatrick is in very good company.
He won’t be turning pro just yet, though. He is following the path trodden by Luke Donald and heading to Northwestern University in Chicago for four years on a golf scholarship. He doesn’t know yet what he will be studying.
“Mum and dad make sure education comes first, rather than the golf. So I’ll make sure I do my four years at Northwestern and get a good degree, hopefully,” he said. “Something to fall back on if the golf doesn’t work out.”
The way he played this week, that shouldn’t be an issue.
In a come-of-age few days on the East Lothian coastline, Fitzpatrick has been stopped by officials outside the locker room asking to see his pass. On Tuesday, another official thought he was a helper for Woods as the world’s top-ranked player started hitting balls on the range.
“Seeing Tiger on the range, for him to be so near, was like one of the best things ever, really. It has been surreal,” said Fitzpatrick, who came through local qualifying.
As the week progressed, more attention was being paid to the first reigning British Boys’ champion in an Open field since Sergio Garcia in 1998. Eight-time major winner Tom Watson was full of praise after playing a practice round with Fitzpatrick, and Couples was also impressed.
“He was very relaxed,” the 1992 Masters champion said. “Kept telling him, ‘Good shot’. And then at the end he won the medal, and that’s huge.”