BROOKLINE, Mass. — When Tiger Woods won his three U.S. Amateurs before making the leap to the PGA Tour he did it with a combination of long game and short game, but as he started winning consistently on Tour, it was his short game that ultimately was the reason for many of his victories.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, a 2-and-1 winner over Canadian Corey Conners on Saturday at The Country Club, showed a short game that is as good as Woods both as an amateur and a professional — never flustered and executing out of the rough with deft precision and then when necessary using his putter like a scalpel cutting the heart out of his opponents.
“Anytime he was in a difficult place where he had little chance of getting it close, he hit an unbelievable little flop shot or pitch shot and played right beside the hole, had a chip‑in,” Conners said. “So when your opponent does that, you’re not really counting him out, but when in a difficult spot and pulls off a great shot, it kind of deflates the tires a little bit.”
Fitzpartick argues that his stats over the last couple of years do not support his short-game magic, yet both his quarterfinal win over Adam Ball and his victory on Saturday over Conners was all about short game as the diminutive Fitzpatrick was always the shortest hitter in the bunch, but was always putting pressure on his opponents around or on the greens.
In Friday’s quarterfinal, Fitzpatrick was short in the front bunker on the par-3 second hole. With Ball on the fringe with a relatively easy up-and-down, Fitzpatrick hit a great sand shot and watched the ball trickle to the hole and drop in.
The shot didn’t win the match for the Englishman, but it did give him a brief lead and also settled the 18-year-old down.
In Saturday’s semis, Fitzpatrick was left with a delicate shot above the eighth hole. It was a shot that 10 to 15 feet back up the hill would be a reasonable outcome. Instead the ball again popped up out of the rough and slowly rolled down the hill and into the hole.
The birdie would square the match and eliminate any doubt, as Conners, who had a 2-up lead on the sixth tee, would win only one hole after the chip in on the eighth.
“I know for a fact on stats chipping and pitching is the worst part of my game, and that’s a fact, definitely from last year’s stats and definitely from this year’s stats,” Fitzpatrick said. “But today I just think you’ve got to be confident coming out of the rough. There’s no way you can sort of just die it in as you come through. You’ve got to give it the full commitment to the shot. And I think hitting a few good chips early on gave me the confidence to keep going at it, chipping it quite well.”
Fitzpatrick uses a 58-degree wedge for most of his short-game work, a bit old school with the 60-, 62- and 64-degree wedges a bit more popular, but as Fitzpatrick says he still needs a lot of work in that area, which is why he is looking forward to working with Pat Goss, the coach at Northwestern starting this fall.
But maybe he doesn’t have to look that far for short-game advice?
“He is a short game-wizard,” Fitzpatrick said about his 14-year-old brother and caddie Alex. “He could get up‑and‑down out of a dustbin. It’s actually frightening the stuff I’ve seen him do, to be fair, and I did ask him actually a few times on the way around what shot he thought I should play.”