Matthew takes the sensible fairway to success

Matthew Fitzpatrick
Matthew Fitzpatrick
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He’s from a good school is Sheffield teenage golf star Matthew Fitzpatrick. No, not just by being a student at Tapton (Lord Coe is an old boy too) where he’s recently finished his A-levels in geography, history and PE.

Neither is it the support from world-class coaches Pete Cowan and Mike Walker or his fellow members at Hallamshire Golf Club where the 18-year-old has honed his game to be good enough to stand alongside the best next week at The Open.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick’s real education comes from home. It’s plain to see, or rather hear, when you chat to him.

Polite, respectful, intelligent, determined and confident; the young man, who you may notice on your television screens when the action begins at Muirfield a week today, is a credit to where it matters most – his family.

But let’s take a step back first.

It’s not easy reaching The Open championship, however Fitzpatrick is no ordinary young player.

He’s currently the British Boys Champion after a brilliant victory last year and will heading to Northwestern University in Chicago this September to begin a four-year degree course.

It’s the same university where former World No 1 Luke Donald forged his reputation with the American golfing public and media. It is another good school.

Many seasoned professionals dream of playing for a chance to pick up the famous Claret Jug.

But a fortnight ago at Gullane No 1 course in East Lothian, with rounds of 69 and 72, he beat the likes of Colin Montgomerie and former Ryder Cup captain Mark James to qualify.

Easy? Not a bit of it. Even at his tender age he’d had Open heartbreak twice before.

“This was my third try,” he said. “A couple of years ago I lost in a play-off and then last year I twisted my ankle, which pretty much ended my hopes.

“I wasn’t in great form coming into this year actually. I’d been playing pretty bad but while I was going through my putting routine before the first round I just decided to enjoy it.

“Not many people get the chance to qualify, so why not just enjoy it.”

The golf may have been fun but once Fitzpatrick had posted a competitive score it became clear that this year his luck may just have turned.

Caddying was fellow Hallamshire member and cancer survivor John Price. The 59-year-old businessman has been a big supporter of Fitzpatrick over the past few years, paying his Open entry fees as one way of thanking him for taking part in Price’s charity golf days for Weston Park Hospital. With the hard work done, Price said it became a question of waiting to see if his score was good enough.

“We thought he’d blown it with a couple of dropped shots over the closing holes,” he explained.

“Then we had a two-hour wait! We were match nine and we knew the danger was from matches 22 and 23, so it was quite some time.”

One by one Fitzpatrick’s rivals fell away.

Price said: “It was so tight but in the end he did it – it was real Roy of the Rovers stuff.”

Indeed it was.

But while the Roy Race stuff may be more suitable to Matthew’s brother Alex, who is a talented footballer as well as playing off a handicap of three aged 14, golf is the only game for the elder sibling.

He’s quick to point out though that despite him being on the right track to emulate the likes of Donald it isn’t necessarily his aim to become professional golfer.

“Of course it’s something I want to do,” he said. “But I wouldn’t just do it for the sake of it.

“I’m looking forward to moving to Northwestern and completing a degree there but I’ll only turn pro if I’m good enough. If I’m not I’ll just get a job.”

For now everything is focused on making the most of his opportunity at Muirfield.

Price won’t be on Fitzpatrick’s bag, instead it will be the vastly experienced caddy Lorne Duncan who will be trying to guide him round the testing links course.

“John has been great,” said Fitzpatrick. “He said he’d love to see me play in The Open and he funded my entry fee.

“After the qualifying round I wasn’t sure I’d made it. After a while I thought it might go to a play-off so I started to warm up again – I didn’t have chance to get nervous about making it through or not.

“I’m really looking forward to it now. I think I have a practice round set up with Luke Donald and I’m toying with the idea of getting up really early and trying to see Tiger Woods on the course.

“I’ve never really had a golf idol as such, but to be around someone like Tiger Woods will be special.

“It’s going to be nice that a lot of my friends, girlfriend and family will be able to watch me.

“I quite like playing in front of a big crowd – I get nervous, but it’s more the kind of natural nerves of wanting to do well - so I should be okay.”

Mum Sue and Dad, Russell, who started his son’s love of golf during summer holidays playing round Tankersley Golf Club, will be there too.

“When I knew I’d qualified I called my mum and dad first and then my girlfriend to let them know,” he said.

“I’ve had so many people wishing me well.

“The day afterwards I just decided to turn my phone off to let everything settle down.”

Which brings us full circle. Calling mum and dad first and a teenager who turns his phone off?

A sensible lad is young Matthew.

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