Matthew Fitzpatrick and winning early
On Sunday, Matthew Fitzpatrick won the Omega European Masters in Switzerland, defeating Scott Hend in a playoff with a par on the third extra hole. The win is Fitzpatrick’s fourth on the European Tour, and propelled him into the 33rd position in the Official World Golf Rankings, four spots off from his highest ever placing of 29th, which he earned after winning the European Tour’s season ending DP World Tour Championship last November.
He also just turned 23 ten days ago.
One of the big discussion points in golf over the last few years is that the game has gotten so much younger at the top, and that in the post-Tiger era, golf at the professional level is actually going to be just fine. It’s a valid and important topic because just a few years ago, that didn’t necessarily seem to be the case and the fact that the quality of talent is so deep at the highest level is a great thing for all concerned. That it’s so young on top of that is even better.
If we go back to Fitzpatrick for a second though, it feels like despite all of his success at such an early age, he just doesn’t seem to get a ton of attention, at least in North America. The question, really, is why?
Four wins on the European Tour and a Ryder Cup appearance at the age of 23 is really impressive, and in years past, it feels like we would have been talking a whole lot more about Fitzpatrick and what he has accomplished to date. For instance, the win on Sunday made him the sixth fastest player to win four times on the European Tour:
Faster than Rory, Faldo, Monty, Woosnam, Langer, Torrance and a whole host of others who are widely recognized as the best players in the history of the European Tour. I always talk about how wins aren’t everything, but it’s hard to look at that list and not be impressed by what Fitzpatrick has done so far. So, again, why do we not seem to care as much? I think there’s a few things at play.
When you look at the above tweet, you should also see a big, red siren blaring about projecting too much, too early at the top of that list. Matteo Manassero had a meteoric rise early in his career, notching his fourth European Tour win just after his 20th birthday, and it was a big one, as he took the 2013 BMW PGA Championship. He entered the top 30 in the world rankings after that win, but he’s had a steady fall since then, to the point where he was approaching 900th in the world last year. He’s been better in 2017, but with only two top-10 finishes worldwide and a ranking of 328th, there aren’t a whole lot of people out there expecting much from Manassero, even if he doesn’t turn 25 until next April. Ultimately though, I don’t think that’s the main driving factor here when it comes to Fitzpatrick.
When I sent out the tweet on Sunday that said we don’t seem to appreciate him enough, there were two general themes that came back my way and while Twitter certainly doesn’t speak for everyone, those two themes hit on what I think the issue is here.
The first is that since it happens on the European Tour, some people in North America tend to dismiss it as something inferior and not worthy of discussion, like it would be if Fitzpatrick had four wins on the PGA Tour. I understand that argument to a point, as for the most part, the European Tour usually has weaker fields than the PGA Tour, and in some instances, they can be weaker than the Web.com Tour in terms of talent, but making that a blanket argument without looking at the specific tournaments involved is faulty.
Fitzpatrick’s win on Sunday awarded 32 OWGR points, which basically put it in line with the amount of points that Bryson DeChambeau received for winning the John Deere and that Xander Schauffele received for winning the Greenbrier. Fitzpatrick received roughly the same amount of points for his British Masters win in 2015, and while his Nordea Masters win last year was akin to an opposite field event on the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour Championship has a great field that you can compare with events like the RBC Heritage and the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This dismissal of quality events on the European Tour isn’t just something that downgrades the accomplishments of young players like Fitzpatrick, as super talented players like Alex Noren and Rickie Fowler don’t get enough credit for their wins overseas either. It’s also worth noting by the way, that despite us having watched Fitzpatrick for what seems like forever, he’s actually younger than both DeChambeau and Schauffele. Wins, especially when you pile them up, mean something.
The second theme that came across on Twitter was that Fitzpatrick isn’t worth the attention because other young players, like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, have done more than him to date, especially in major championships.
I’ve talked a lot in the past about how Tiger’s dominance over the game has made it very, very difficult for us to truly appreciate how good players like Spieth and Rory are because on some level, there’s an expectation that golf is meant to be dominated. The fact is though that we have far more evidence based on history that Tiger is very much an outlier, and that his level of dominance just isn’t something we should ever expect. Yesterday though, it came to my attention that Fitzpatrick is a product of that next level down.
I mentioned above that the game has gotten so young at the top, and when you see players like Spieth, Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm doing what they’re doing, it’s very easy to look further down the list and think that the accomplishments of other young players don’t mean as much. This isn’t even specific to the European Tour, as you can very easily make the argument that players like Daniel Berger aren’t getting enough credit for how good they are either. There’s a natural progression that players are supposed to make at this level, from contending in tournaments, to winning them and then contending and winning bigger tournaments, and so on. Fitzpatrick has done just that, and done it at an incredibly young age, and just because the other players mentioned above have jumped the queue and are doing things that we haven’t really seen before doesn’t minimize Fitzpatrick’s accomplishments in any way.
Yes, the next step for Fitzpatrick likely involves competing regularly on the PGA Tour and getting into contention more in major championships, even though one top-10 in eight starts as a pro at 23 is pretty solid already. He would likely tell you that he has lots of room to grow, and wants to join the likes of Spieth and Rahm at the top of the game, but just because those things are true, doesn’t mean that what he has done already isn’t meaningful or impressive.
He’s really good, and he deserves some more attention because of it.