Golf: Matt ready for the paid ranks

Matt Fitzpatrick
Matt Fitzpatrick
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The biggest story of the past year in English golf will open a new chapter this weekend when Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick bids goodbye to the unpaid ranks.

Emerging into the spotlight at last year’s Open Championship, Fitzpatrick quickly marked himself out as one of the game’s must-watch talents.

And the 19-year-old will step into an even more intense spotlight next week when he becomes a fully-fledged professional golfer.

The baby-faced Hallamshire Golf Club member will come under a great deal of scrutiny as commentators wait to see if he will sink or swim in the professional ranks.

Can he carry a phenomenal final year of amateur golf into a career in the paid game? It is a question - rightly or wrongly - which Fitzpatrick will be under pressure to answer quickly and assertively.

He has one last chance to provide a hint of his future fortunes this week as he competes at the US Open at Pinehurst.

The former Tapton House School pupil will tee off alongside the reigning US Open and Open champions, Justin Rose and Phil Mickleson.

It is fitting that Fitzpatrick will play his first two rounds at the North Carolina course with Rose, the man he has been mentioned in the same breath as for the past year.

Like Rose before him, Fitzpatrick attracted an incredible amount of attention when winning the Silver Medal as top amateur at the Open Championship.

Rose missed 21 consecutive cuts. It proved a long road to Major championship glory for a man to whom Fitzpatrick is now so closely compared.

The main difference between the two men is that Rose turned professional the day after winning the Silver Medal.

In contrast, Fitzpatrick continued to outline his credentials in the amateur world in stunning style over the following months.

He added the US Amateur Championship to his Silver Medal triumph, following in the footsteps of Mickleson, Jack Nicklaus and three-time winner Tiger Woods, as well as becoming the first English winner in 102 years.

Though his Britain and Ireland team were convincingly beaten in the Walker Cup, Fitzpatrick claimed three points out of four as his own personal electric form continued to the extent that he started 2014 as the world’s number one golfing amateur. He also made the tough decision to walk away from a scholarship at Northwestern University in the US to concentrate fully on his golf game.

Next week’s Irish Open will see Fitzpatrick tee off as a professional for the first time.

The rest of his year will be spent playing in a handful of tournaments on the invitation of sponsors before entering the European Tour’s qualifying school in November, unless he has managed to earn enough prize money to secure a tour card outright.

Fitzpatrick originally intended to play the Open at Royal Liverpool before defending his US Amateur crown in August before turning pro. But the calls for him to make the jump only increased in April after his performances in the Masters at Augusta and the RBC Heritage, where he finished 23rd to earn a healthy five-figure prize.

The step up from amateur to pro golf is widely regarded as one of the biggest leaps for any individual in sport. He said: “I think it would be stupid to say I’m ready to go out and compete and finish top five and top ten straight away. But I’ve been told my game is in good enough shape to compete.”

He will be guided by ISM, headed by Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler who helped oversee the rapid rise of Rory McIlroy.

Chandler has lost a number of his clients, including McIlroy, but his signing of Fitzpatrick has been labelled as the start of his resurgence as one of the sport’s ‘power agents’.

The chapter detailing the Sheffield golfer’s rise has been a glorious tale.

Plenty believe, however, it is only the beginning of an epic tale.

Factfile:

Born September 1, 1994

Joined Hallamshire Golf Club in 2004 at age of nine

Won Hallamshire GC Junior Cup aged 10

Won Captain’s Cup, Hallamshire Cup and Club Championship at 13

Won three Club Championships at Hallamshire in total

Part of England Junior-Team-Championship-winning side at 13

2012 Boys Amateur Champion

2013 Silver Medal winner at The Open Championship

2013 US Amateur Champion

Topped World Amateur rankings

Shot +5 in opening two rounds on his debut in The Masters, April 2014

Will turn pro following the 2014 US Open