Danny Hall Column: The day James Gregg knew his pal Matt Fitzpatrick was destined to reach the top of golf

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  • Matt Fitzpatrick, aged 21, made history last weekend when he won the British Masters title
  • The Hallamshire golfer was surrounded by friends and family as he lifted his first professional title
  • Those close to him say he is a grounded individual as well as a talented golfer
  • Told friends James Gregg and Ted Brady: ‘The best bit is that you are here with me to witness it’
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Matthew Thomas Fitzpatrick still remembers, with a grin, the day he rocked up to play in the The Open Championship in 2013, and was asked for ID before being mistaken for a kid fetching Tiger Woods’ practice balls.

The golf world knows who he is now, though; the weekend’s British Masters victory saw to that, with the youngest player in the field lifting his first professional title and taking home a €767,000 winners’ cheque.

Winning at Woburn is nothing new, however; Fitzpatrick and teammates from Hallamshire GC triumphed there almost eight years ago to the day. Two close friends from that trip in 2007, Ted Brady and James Gregg, were with him on Saturday as he made history.

Fitzpatrick’s story is one of a prodigiously-talented sportsman, first and foremost, surrounded with a network of close family and friends helping to keep his feet on the ground.

Those on the tour refer to Fitzpatrick as ‘The Mondeo Man’, in homage to his beloved 2010 Ford which he says he has no intention of trading in for a Ferrari anytime soon. His first stop off on the way back to Sheffield, with the British Masters title in his boot? Subway.

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“He works hard, he focuses, and he has an incredible attitude,” Gregg, himself a more than handy golfer and the 2012 Sheffield Union of Golf Clubs junior captain, tells me.

“Everyone knows that. I also highly rate his father - not just as a bloke, but also so, so, so highly as a ‘golf parent’. There are so many pushy dads on the circuit. But Russell would never get angry at Matt, or push him. He’s also the biggest golf badger I know.

“Russell deserves a son like Matt, he really does. He’s been amazing with him.

“Everyone talks about what a nice lad Matt is, too.

Matthew Fitzpatrick with the British Masters trophy. Picture: Andrew Roe

Matthew Fitzpatrick with the British Masters trophy. Picture: Andrew Roe

“He is - but I’d say he’s even nicer and genuine than the media can make out. Truly.

“He’s not media-savvy enough to know how to manipulate the press into thinking he’s a nice lad.

“He just is great.”

Born in the Steel City on September 1, 1994 to Russell and mum Sue, Fitzpatrick was, unsurprisingly, adept at most sports from an early age. June 21, 2005’s Sheffield Star carries a story on Fitzpatrick and his Hallam School colleagues triumphing in mini-tennis area finals at Graves Tennis Centre; a 2008 photo shows him posing, shyly, on the back row of Tapton School’s U13 football team picture.

At the US Open last year, Rory McIlroy asked him for a practice round. He was so nonchalant about it, saying: ‘Dad, I’m gonna play nine with Rory tomorrow’. Simple as that. No song and dance about it, just a casual Tuesday afternoon in the world of Matt Fitzpatrick.

James Gregg

But for Fitzpatrick, it’s always been golf.

A member of Hallamshire Golf Club since a young age, he shot one-over-par as Hallamshire became English champions at Woburn. Fitzpatrick was 13 years old.

He later won the 2012 Boys Amateur Championship, and studied for a semester at Northwestern University in Chicago before leaving and turning pro.

Since then, the records and milestones have tumbled - he became the first English winner of the US Amateur in 102 years; the first player, since Bobby Jones 1930, to be low amateur at both The Open and US Open.

He is the current youngest player in the top 100 in the world, 401 days younger than No.1 Jordan Spieth.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, one of the players he beat to the British Masters crown, was the oldest player at Woburn.

Hallamshire GC at Woburn. Fitzpatrick is third from left, Ted Brady is in the centre with the trophy and James Gregg is second from right.

Hallamshire GC at Woburn. Fitzpatrick is third from left, Ted Brady is in the centre with the trophy and James Gregg is second from right.

He had won two European titles before Fitzpatrick was even born.

“Modest, but with a game to shout about,” is how one article described Sheffield’s latest golfing sensation this weekend.

According to those who know him best, they couldn’t be more spot-on.

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“Fitz has always been a better golfer than me,” Gregg, a talented radio and TV presenter, says with a smile.

“I knew that ever since that day when we played together at Woburn for Hallamshire.

“Remarkably, I beat him in the Sheffield Under-14s event the year later, by two shots.

“That spurred him on to win the Sheffield Under-18s. Despite being 13 years old.

“‘Wow’, I thought. ‘He’s unreal’.”

“He mentioned me in his winners’ speech that day, and thanked my dad for the lift up to Lees Hall, where the event was. A classy touch.

“On Sunday, he mentioned me again, telling Kirsty Gallacher how nice it was to have his two best mates there to see his first win.

“He meant me and Ted, who captained Hallamshire when we won the English.”

Fitzpatrick only joined the tour this year, and celebrated his 21st birthday last month, but has already seen his career earnings break the £1million barrier.

“I remember the days of saying ‘How bloody good is so-and-so...’ and now he’s playing against, and beating, a lot of these guys week-in, week-out,” Gregg added.

“At the US Open last year, where Matt qualified as an amateur and Ted and I went over for 10 days with him for the tournament, Rory McIlroy asked him for a practice round.

“He was so nonchalant about it, saying: ‘Dad, I’m gonna play nine with Rory tomorrow’.

“Simple as that. No song and dance about it, just a casual Tuesday afternoon in the world of Matt Fitzpatrick.”

After the title had been secured, the last of the champagne sprayed, all autographs signed and media commitments fulfilled, Fitzpatrick sought out the Woburn sign in the car park where he, Gregg and Brady had posed with Hallamshire eight years earlier, almost to the day.

“Ted and I were saying: ‘My God! You’ve just won half-a-million pounds... it’s mental,” Gregg smiles.

“’You’ve won the British Masters! You beat everyone here this week... You’re 60th in the world...’”

Fitzpatrick’s reply?

“Lads, the best bit about it is that you boys were here to see it.”

James Gregg first enountered Fitzpatrick as a 13-year-old

James Gregg first enountered Fitzpatrick as a 13-year-old

Fitzpatrick was a keen sportsman at school, playing tennis and football as well as golf

Fitzpatrick was a keen sportsman at school, playing tennis and football as well as golf