England – and Yorkshire’s – Matt Fitzpatrick held off a host of the world’s best players to claim his first major title with a thrilling one-shot victory in the US Open at The Country Club, Brookline.
The 27-year-old from Sheffield, who played in the final group at last month’s US PGA Championship, only to suffer a Sunday relapse and finish fifth, made up for that disappointment in double quick time, firing a closing two-under 68 to finish on six-under for the championship and consign American Will Zalatoris to his third runner-up finish in a major in just eight attempts. Zalatoris tied for second with world no.1 Scottie Scheffler, who also had his chances, but closed with a 67.
But the glory, and a first Major title, a prize of $3.15m – and a first victory on US soil – belonged to Fitzpatrick who, in contrast to his somewhat nervy performance at Southern Pines last month, showed more than a bit of Sheffield steel on Sunday. His 157-yard fairway bunker shot to the heart of the 18th green was an absolute master stroke, bringing back memories of Sandy Lyle with his wonder shot from the bunker at Augusta’s final hole to win the 1988 Masters. A two-putt par was then enough to spark scenes of sheer jubilation as Fitzpatrick’s parents and his brother embraced him on the green.
“It’s what you grow up dreaming of,” said Fitzpatrick, with the enormity of his achievement yet to fully sink in. “It’s something I’ve worked so hard for, for such a long time. I’ve got to give myself credit – I had so much patience.”
Fitzpatrick, who also won the US Amateur title at Brookline back in 2013, joins Jack Nicklaus as the only two men to win both that and the US Open at the same venue – Nicklaus achieved the feat at Pebble Beach. He is also the first non-American to win both titles. And he joins 1970 champion Tony Jacklin and 2013 victor Justin Rose as modern-day English winners of the US Open.
Playing in the final group on Sunday, Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris went at it like seasoned prize fighters for four-and-a-half hours of pure sporting drama. That’s not to say that it was ever a two-horse race. Masters champion Scheffler, defending champion Jon Rahm and world number three Rory McIlroy were all within striking distance of joint overnight leaders at the start of the final round in Massachusetts.
But while Rahm and McIlroy’s challenges faltered, Scheffler powered into the lead with four birdies in his first six holes as he looked to become just the sixth man to win the Masters and US Open in the same year, and only the second man after Tiger Woods to win this major while sitting top of the world rankings.
Fitzpatrick answered with birdies on the third and fifth holes, while a nervy-looking Zalatoris had two bogeys to slip four shots behind the leading duo. However, two stunning irons shots led to successive birdies at 6 and 7 to spark 25-year-old Zalatoris into life, and when Scheffler hit trouble around the turn and Fitzpatrick missed two short putts, all of a sudden it was Zalatoris who led by two.
A huge turning point came on the 13th, though, when Fitzpatrick holed a 50-foot birdie putt to tie Zalatoris, who made a clutch par save from 12 feet. Scheffler was always lurking, but the final pair looked determined that one of them would become the 14th first-time major winner to lift the US Open trophy in the past 18 years – it was just a case of who would land that knockout blow.
It came at the par-4 15th, where Fitzpatrick carved his tee shot way right, but found a clean lie on grass that has been trampled down by spectators, while Zalatoris missed the fairway by just a few feet, but found himself in the second cut of rough. Playing first, Fitzpatrick played a sumptuous 4-iron to within 15 feet of the flag, while the American was only able to advance his ball into a bunker to the left of the green. A bogey followed, and when Fitzpatrick drained his 15-footer for birdie, the Yorkshireman’s lead was now two, with just three holes to play.
However, the drama was yet to properly unfold, as with both players parring 16, cheers went up from the home crowd when Scheffler birdied 17 to move to five-under, just one behind Fitzpatrick, and when Zalatoris also birdied 17, the gauntlet was well and truly thrown down.
Although the 18th at Brookline is only 444 yards – a drive and a wedge for most players – the fairway turns significantly from right to left, with two bunkers on the elbow which many players attempt to fly for the shortest route to the raised green. Fitzpatrick, who later said that a fairway bunker shot was his least favourite type, found the first of those bunkers with his tee shot, while Zalatoris split the fairway. With an island of grass in the middle of the bunker seemingly blocking his path to the flag, Fitzpatrick was required to hit a towering draw with a short iron, and he executed the shot perfectly, with the ball sailing towards the target before coming to rest some 15 feet from the cup. Unphased, Zalatoris hit a stunning approach of his own, landing just inside his rival’s ball, with a 12-foot putt for birdie.
Fitzpatrick’s birdie putt to win the championship missed by inches leaving a tap-in for par, with the stage now set for Zalatoris to make the birdie required to force a play-off. The ball trickled slowly down the slope and looked for all the world like it would drop, but it grazed the edge of the cup, and sailed on by. Zalatoris sank to his knees in disappointment – with yet another chance Major glory gone begging.
Meanewhile, on the edge of the green, Fitzpatrick’s caddie, the legendary Billy Foster, lowered his cap to avoid watching the putt, but seconds later, as the groans from the home fans rang around the 18th green, Fitzpatrick put an arm around his friend’s shoulder to tell him the good news and the pair embraced.
Foster has caddied for many of the game’s greats during his 30-plus years on tour, but had never won a major, until now. He was visibly overcome with emotion, as was his employer. “I’m glad someone has finally got that giant monkey off my back – it was more of a gorilla,” said Foster. “It means a lot. Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Seve, they’ve had their chances over the years and I was caddying for Thomas Bjorn when he left it in the bunker at Sandwich in 2003, and that really hurt. I thought about it for six months and it broke my heart. This has put a lot of bad memories to bed. It means everything. I knew Matt was good enough to win a major and this week he has played unbelievable. He’s not putted his best, which is incredible really. He did my head in missing a few short putts. He didn’t need to win by four. One was enough.”
Fitzpatrick, who stayed with the same family that put him up for the week during the US Amateur in 2013, said: “I love playing this golf course. It suits my game so well. I’ve been playing well for a while, and I think it all just fell into place that this was the place it was going to happen.”
And happen it did.