June 22, 2022

This was a US Open like it was intended to be played

Traditionally the US Open is the toughest test of the four major championships. The USGA has occasionally missed on the course selection and preparation making the site unfair to the point that good shots were not rewarded. The Country Club course setup was a perfect test for what the USGA wanted to accomplish; identify the best player that could hit it straight, make wise decisions, hit greens, be patient, and putt well. In the end of four days the players that did that best were where they should be, battling down the stretch for a coveted US Open trophy.

To win any tournament requires skill and a little bit of luck. Matthew Fitzpatrick was up to the task hitting 17 of 18 greens that last day in Brookline, which also included two holes reached in less than regulation. Hitting greens is admirable, but hitting it close to the pin is a better sign for how well you are striking your iron shots. His proximity of the pin was not outstanding, having many putts over 50 feet left for his birdie attempt. However, this is a US Open course and many times it is a major accomplishment to just keep it on the green.

There were three fortunate outcomes that tipped the scales that lead to this being Matt's day. A mediocre iron shot on hole 13 left Matt a tricky 48 foot putt. Tour averages show that this putt is not made 97% of the time and 15% it is three putted. The announcers stated the difficulty of getting the ball close on the first putt, but Matt made the improbable putt. Will Zalatoris then missed a much easier 12 footer for birdie and the game was tied. Hole 15 was perhaps the most unfair, but championships turn on such things. Fitzpatrick hits his worst tee shot of the day going 30 yards wide of the fairway. That usually is no man's land and an automatic bogie or worse, but his ball finds a trampled down area where he can hit a fantastic shot on the green to a mere 19 feet from the hole. Zalatoris hit what looked like a good tee shot, but bounced hard to the right into the tall rough were he had no shot. Matt makes the birdie putt and Will makes a bogie and there is a two shot swing. The last happened on the 18th hole where it is imperative you hit the fairway and don't go anywhere near the bunkers on the left. Matt hits the three wood in exactly the wrong direction and goes in the bunker. This bunker ruined Jon Rahm the day before and many others. One foot to the right and Matt would've had no shot, but luck was shining this day and he had a clear shot to the green with no lip to worry about. The champion then hit a career shot under the pressure to within 18 feet of the pin. If it was just one shot to win a US Open, then Matthew earned it on that shot.

I have to admit that I was not rooting for Matt Fitzpatrick. Although he was ranked as the 18th best player in the world going into the US Open, I didn't think he had the credentials for being a major champion. He has been a regular on the PGA Tour since 2015, but has never won a PGA Tournament. He has played in two Ryder Cups and has not won a single point. His Ryder Cup captain did not place enough trust in him and basically hide him from competition, playing him in only five of the ten matches that he could have played. He has generally been considered a good player that is proficient in all aspects of the game, but not one thing is exceptional. However, this is the type of player a US Open golf course is setup for! Like the tortoise in the "Tortoise and Hare", slow and steady wins the race. Matt wasn't slow, because he showed some length, but steady he was and that wins US Opens.

Players like Will Zalatoris, Scott Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, and Jon Rahm should be thinking how didn't I win this tournament. They all were brilliant at times and seemed to have figured out the key to success on this true US Open golf course. In the end, none were consistent enough or patient enough to hold the title. McIlroy more than any should be kicking himself, because this was his best chance in quite a few years for his fifth major. In reality, Rory is not a US Open type of player. He has the shots, but not the discipline to weave his way around a strategy designed golf course.

Matt Fitzpatrick is a US Open type player, nothing special, but straight and consistent. This kind of competition plays to his strength. Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus were also great US Open players. They knew what it took to win this type of tournament. They adapted their game to meet the challenge, but they also had the game and talent to adjust their games to meet any test. The Masters is unique and British Open courses are entirely a different experience, but they compensated and found a way to win. Hale Irwin won three US Opens, is a Hall of Fame golfer, and winner of 17 more PGA titles, but no other major titles. Hale's game was perfect for a US Open test, but not ideal for other major contests. You can lump Lee Janzen with 2 US Open wins and 6 other PGA titles; Andy North winning 2 US Open titles and only one other PGA victory; Corey Pavin with one US Open major and 14 more PGA Tour wins, and Lanny Nelson with one US Open and two PGA titles along with 7 other PGA Tour triumphs, into the stereotypical mold of US Open winners that had the proper game-set for golfs toughest challenge. At this time, I find Matt Fitzpatrick fits into this category and it's hard to see future major victories unless the stars align themselves like they did at Brookline.

You can't take anything away from Matthew Fitzpatrick's performance. Golf was played like the USGA intended the game to be played and a well-deserved champion was crowned. That's the way it should be done.


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