Planet Golf — 18 June 2022 by GW staff and news services
U.S. Open champion in rare company

BROOKLINE, Mass. — Matt Fitzpatrick of England is a champion again at The Country Club, this time with the grandest of trophies in golf.

A U.S. Amateur champion in 2013. The U.S. Open champion Sunday.

In a three-way battle at Brookline that came down to the wire, Fitzpatrick seized control with a great break and an even better shot on the 15th hole for a two-shot swing. He was just as clutch from a fairway bunker on the 18th that set up par for a 2-under 68.

Victory was not secure until Will Zalatoris, who showed amazing fight back from every mistake, dropped to his knees when his 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th just slid by the left side of the cup. Zalatoris, who closed with a 69, was a runner-up in the second straight major.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler never recovered from back-to-back bogeys to start the back nine that cost him the lead. He had a 25-foot birdie chance on the 18th that just missed and left him one behind with a 67.

Along with the $3.15 million in prize money, Fitzpatrick had that gold Jack Nicklaus medal draped around his neck, which was only fitting.

Fitzpatrick is the second man to win a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open on the same course, joining Nicklaus, who turned the trick at Pebble Beach. Juli Inkster won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes.

Fitzpatrick, who briefly played at Northwestern before turning pro, won for the eighth time worldwide, and this was his first in America — at least a tournament everyone knows about. He won the member-member at The Bear’s Club in Florida at the start of the year, the course Nicklaus built.

“He gave me a bit of abuse at the start of the year. He said, ‘Finally. Congratulations for winning in the States,’” Fitzpatrick said.

And then slightly lifting the trophy, Fitzpatrick sent a fun message to Nicklaus: “Jack, I won a second time.”

It took a good break, a signature shot and some guts at the end.

Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris were tied going to the 15th when the Englishman hit his tee shot so far right that it went into the gallery and found a decent lie on grass that was dead and trampled. Zalatoris missed by only a few yards and was buried in deep grass.

He hit 5-iron from 220 yards to 18 feet below the hole. Zalatoris went into the front bunker, blasted out to 25 feet and made bogey. Fitzpatrick took a two-shot lead when his birdie putt went into the cup with such perfect pace it didn’t even touch the pin he leaves in the cup.

Zalatoris again bounced back, taking on a tough pin at the par-3 16th to 7 feet for birdie to cut the lead to one shot. Both missed 12-foot birdie chances on the 17th, and then Fitzpatrick missed a fairway at the wrong time, pulling it left into a bunker with a steep patch of rough right in front of him.

It looked like a playoff was eminent — the previous three U.S. Opens at Brookline were all decided by a playoff — and then Fitzpatrick fearless hit a fade with a 9-iron that carried the gaping bunker in front of the green and settled 18 feet away.

He narrowly missed and could only watch as Zalatoris missed his last chance.

“Matt’s shot on 18 is going to be shown probably for the rest of U.S. Open history,” Zalatoris said. “I walked by it, and I thought that going for it was going to be ballsy. But the fact that he pulled it off and even had a birdie look was just incredible.

“So hat’s off to him. He played great all week obviously and gave a solid round today.”

Fitzpatrick finished at 6-under 134.

The 27-year-old Fitzpatrick, the first Englishman since Justin Rose in 2013 to win the U.S. Open, felt his time was coming. He is meticulous in charting his shots and keeps a record of all of them to identify what needs work. And he emphasized speed in his swing over the last two years, giving him the length and the belief to compete with anyone.

That didn’t make Sunday any easier, a three-man race from the start when Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy fell back and never rejoined the mix.

Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris, who shared the 54-hole lead, each had a two-shot lead at one point.

Zalatoris, who lost in a playoff to Justin Thomas in the PGA Championship last month, recovered from two early bogeys. They were tied when Zalatoris made an 18-foot birdie putt on the short par-3 11th, and Fitzpatrick three-putted for bogey from the same range.

The 25-year-old from Dallas suddenly had a two-shot lead. He also couldn’t keep the ball in the fairway, and it cost him with a dropped shot on No. 12. And then came another big turning point, with Fitzpatrick holing a 50-foot birdie putt across the 13th green. Zalatoris did well to make his 15-footer for par and they headed for the tense conclusion.

Scheffler was still hanging around in his bid for a second major this year, but everyone else became a distant memory. Hideki Matsuyama had the low round of the week at 65, but he finished at 3-under 277, and that was never going to be good enough.

In the end, it was Fitzpatrick sharing hugs with his family on the green, including younger brother Alex, who caddied for him in the U.S. Amateur and recently turned pro.

And there was his caddie, Billy Foster, one of the most popular, long-serving loopers in Europe who had never been on the bag for a major until Sunday.

“Billy said it for a while to keep doing what you’re doin and the chance will come,” Fitzpatrick said. “It did, and I took it.”

THIRD ROUND

BROOKLINE, Mass. – It was T-shirt weather at the 122nd U.S. Open – in the early rounds. That was hard to believe Saturday, when the wind kicked up, changed direction and players and fans bundled up at The Country Club. The forecast for Sunday calls for temperatures in the 50s.

This tournament has turned into a test of survival, and players who specialize in rough weather (Keegan Bradley, Matt Fitzpatrick), major championships (Will Zalatoris), or both (Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler) have risen to the top as if according to script.

Fitzpatrick (68) and Zalatoris (67) share the lead at 4 under, one ahead of defending champion Rahm (71), who birdied the 17th hole but got hung up in the bunkers and double-bogeyed 18.

Bradley (69), Adam Hadwin (70) and FedExCup and world No. 1 Scheffler (71) are two back, with Sam Burns (71), Rory McIlroy (73) and Joel Dahmen (74) still in it at three back.

“I seem to have played really well in this sort of weather the last couple of years,” said Bradley, who graduated from Hopkinton High School, some 30 miles west of Brookline. “So, I feel good, and I know tomorrow is going to be tough. It’s going to be a tough day.”

Bradley, who called the warm ovation he got on 18 one of the highlights of his life, might be underselling it a bit. At the 2011 Bryon Nelson, his first TOUR win, weekend rounds featured winds of 25 mph with gusts hitting 40. At THE PLAYERS Championship, in wind and cold, he finished fifth. At the rainy, cold Wells Fargo Championship, he tied for second.

He’s hardly the only one who thrives when the going gets tough. Zalatoris, who is still in search of his first PGA TOUR victory, keeps racking up top-5 finishes in the majors, most recently a playoff loss to Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship last month. Rahm won the 2020 Memorial presented by Workday in brutally difficult conditions and, of course, is the reigning champion of this event.

Then there’s Fitzpatrick, who was always a sentimental pick this week, given that he won the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club and came back playing exceptionally well. He was in the final group at the PGA (T5) and will be in the last tee time again at the U.S. Open.

“I certainly think it gives me an edge over the others, yeah,” he said of his success at the 2013 U.S. Amateur, when his kid brother, Alex, caddied for him. “I genuinely do believe that.”

The fans seem to remember him, he added, making this week feel like a home game.

Bradley, too, said he has felt the warm embrace of the fans, especially as he came up 18.

“I got to feel what it feels like to play in Fenway,” he said, his eyes misting up. “To play in the Garden, to play in Gillette Stadium. I felt like a Boston player there.”

To get an idea why this leaderboard looks the way it does, it helps to go back to the Wells Fargo Championship in Potomac, Maryland this season. It was a great week to binge-watch something on TV, but in the incessant, cold rain, Bradley and Fitzpatrick each tied for second.

Conditions may be unpredictable, but bad-weather specialists are not.

Zalatoris was one of the few who did not cave and throw on at least a pullover Saturday. He was born in San Francisco and referenced the blustery cold there, but still played in shirtsleeves.

“Yeah, there were some big changes,” he said of the wind shift Saturday. “I think I had, like, 312 (for his second shot) into 14 on Thursday, and then I had 258 (to the) front today.

“This place is a beast,” he added. “When I played during the Am in 2013, I said this was the hardest golf course that I had ever played. It’s just so easy to compound mistakes out here, which, of course, you can do that in major championships in general, but especially this one.”

Like Scheffler, who holed out for eagle at the par-5 eighth hole but gave it back with a double-bogey at the short, par-3 11th, Rahm had a wild third round. Up against a tree, he hit one shot with his back to the target, with a one-handed, backhanded swipe. Later, from the fairway bunker on 18, he failed to clear the lip, the ball rolling back down the face and nearly into his footprint.

When it was all over, he told himself the important thing was that he was just a shot back.

“Same thing,” he said, when asked what he needs Sunday. “I just have to do me. That’s it. I can’t control what the guys ahead or behind me are doing. I just have to focus on myself and my game and play my golf, shot by shot. Try to be as committed as possible to each shot, and that’s it.

“The second you get too caught up in what others are doing at a U.S. Open,” he continued, “is when you start making bogeys and double-bogeys in a row.”

SECOND ROUND

BROOKLINE, Mass. — The storms dodged Brookline and the stars began to emerge Friday in the U.S. Open.

Collin Morikawa showed signs of emerging from pedestrian play at just the right time, matching the low score of the championship with a 4-under 66 for a share of the 36-hole lead with Joel Dahmen and a shot at a third straight year winning a major.

He had plenty of company at The Country Club, one player in clear view.

Defending champion Jon Rahm played with Morikawa and did his best to keep pace with an eagle and a series of big par putts that felt just as valuable. Rahm had a 67 and was one shot behind in a group that included Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy, coming of a win at the Canadian Open, was never more entertaining.

He was two holes into his round when an errant approach landed in waist-high fescue. He took a hack. And then another. The third try finally found the green, and he holed a 25-foot putt to salvage a double bogey. McIlroy hit his stride on the back nine with three birdies over his last four holes for a 69.

Not to be overlooked was Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who chipped in from thick rough short of the par-5 14th green for an eagle that brought the Texan back into the mix with a 67. He was two shots behind.

“It’s the U.S. Open. No one has taken it deep so far and kind of run away,” Morikawa said. “The last few days is a huge confidence booster for me heading into this weekend, and hopefully we can kind of make some separation somehow.”

Morikawa, Rahm and Scheffler have combined to win four of the last nine majors. And then there’s McIlroy, who has four majors by himself, but none since 2014.

“I think it’s great for the game of golf that the highest ranked players and the best players are up there, especially in the tournament where truly the best player ends up winning,” Rahm said.

The idea of the U.S. Open is to identify the best players. Some of them require some introductions to major championship contention on the weekend.

Start with Dahmen, the cancer survivor and everyman who will never be accused of taking himself too seriously, even if he takes his game seriously. He thought about withdrawing from the 36-hole qualifier twice last week, before it started and after the first round.

But he stuck it out, and with a 68 on Friday, plays in the final group of a major for the first time. He joined Morikawa at 5-under 135.

The group one shot behind includes Hayden Buckley, who actually studied while at Missouri because he never thought playing golf for a living was going to work out. He wasn’t in the U.S. Open until making a 20-foot birdie putt in a playoff for the last spot in his qualifier 11 days ago.

He was fading, like so many others, with three bogeys during a five-hole stretch around the turn when he got back on track. Birdies on the last two holes gave him another 68.

Also at 136 were Aaron Wise, with one PGA Tour victory and nothing better than a tie for 17th in his nine previous majors; and Beau Hossler, who featured on the weekend at Olympic Club as a teenage amateur in 2012 but hasn’t been heard of since then in the majors.

They were examples that the U.S. Open being open to all doesn’t just stop with qualifying for the right to play the toughest test in golf.

Signs posted warned of the potential for bad weather as the wind started to shake trees late in the morning. The clouds dispersed and the wind died late in the afternoon, allowing for better scores and a few less mistakes.

McIlroy never panicked after his double bogey. He took advantage of the birdie chances on the drivable par-4 fifth and the short par-5 eighth. And he finished strong to get right in the mix, his main goal going into the weekend.

Adding to the anticipation for McIlroy was seeing so many familiar names at the top.

“You want to go up against the best to try to bring the best out of yourself,” McIlroy said. “And to see Collin and Jon and Scottie and Sam (Burns) up there and whoever else, that’s what major championship golf is all about. That’s what competition is all about.

“And that’s at the heart of this game. I’m excited to be in that mix going into the weekend.”

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