Matthew Fitzpatrick wins in Sweden
“How good is it to be a golf fan right now?”
That’s how Golf Channel anchor George Savaricas ends a Golf Central promo that’s been airing on the network for the last year or so, and that’s exactly what I came back to when I was watching the European Tour this weekend.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 21-year old from Sheffield, absolutely dominated the Nordea Masters over the final three rounds to win by three shots. It’s his second European Tour win after taking the British Masters last October, and while he stumbled a little on the back nine at points with a huge lead, the tournament was never really in doubt. Fitzpatrick isn’t the longest hitter out there, currently ranking 180th on the European Tour in driving distance at just a shade over 280 yards, but he makes up for it with a superb short game, which this week, included an absolutely red-hot putter. He dissected the course with incredible precision, and took on a laughably long track with ease, finishing 9-under par on the par 5’s for the week. Nicolas Colsaerts, who is stupid long from the tee and finished third, also ended up at 9-under for the week despite a sizeable edge in distance.
The similarities to fellow Under Armour athlete Jordan Spieth are obvious. They’re around the same age, and their styles of play are pretty much identical, with both players probably not getting enough credit for how good they are from tee to green. The comparison to Spieth is obviously premature, and I’m not saying that the two are on the same level, but what Fitzpatrick’s success illustrates is just how deep and compelling the talent is in the game right now.
Coming into the week, Fitzpatrick was ranked 45th in the world and this win will likely move him up into about the 30th spot, which is incredible for someone of his age. Most 21 year olds who aspire to play professional golf do just that: they aspire to play it. Fitzpatrick is not only doing it already, but he’s doing it as one of the best players in the world. Of course, with what players like Spieth are doing at the very top of the game, it’s made it difficult for someone like Fitzpatrick to get the attention that he probably deserves, but in the grand scheme of things, this is probably a good thing for golf.
For the longest time during Tiger’s run of dominance at the top of the game, there really weren’t a lot of players out there that moved the needle, but that simply isn’t the case these days. Look at the top 50 players in the world coming into this week, and you find not only great players but guys who have fantastic stories and are so fun to watch.
Even if you ignore the “Big Three”, who isn’t intrigued by guys like Bubba, Rickie, Stenson, DJ and Sergio? Older players like Phil Mickelson and younger guys like Justin Thomas? I don’t know what we did to deserve this, but it really is remarkable.
Fitzpatrick’s certainly a superstar in the making, and as he gets older and becomes a little more consistent, performances like this one and his T7 at the Masters are going to become commonplace. He’s going to be a fixture at the Ryder Cup for years to come, including in a few months at Hazeltine, joining a European side that seemingly looks stronger and stronger each time that I look at it. Ian Poulter might not be able to play, but it’s very easy to see Fitzpatrick taking his place as the guy who just keeps hitting putt after putt to win a Ryder Cup.
Of course, we did this same thing a few years ago with Matteo Manassero and it didn’t quite work out. Manassero won his fourth European Tour event at the age of 21 when he triumphed at Wentworth back in 2013, and since then, he has posted zero wins and fallen to 887th in the world rankings. There are signs that he’s breaking out of that slump though, as he qualified for the U.S. Open on Monday this week, and carried that strong play into the Nordea Masters with a T-12 finish. That was his best finish since the 2014 Scottish Open, and hopefully it’s a sign that he’s on the right path.
It’s also a sign that we should perhaps temper our expectations a little bit when it comes to Fitzpatrick, but that’s a really difficult thing to do when you watch performances like this one. Players like Spieth, Rory, Hideki and countless others haven’t made this easy either with how good they’ve been at such an early age, and when they struggle even in the slightest, people begin to ask questions about what they’re doing wrong. No one will ever have all the answers to the questions that golf asks, but the players at the top in 2016 seem to have them more often than not. The way Fitzpatrick played over the last three days in Sweden makes you think that he can win wherever he tees it up, and he’s far from the only one that makes you feel that way these days.
To answer Savaricas’ question, it’s so good to be a golf fan right now and Matthew Fitzpatrick is just one of many reasons why.