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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: US Open reaffirms golf’s proper values as Matt Fitzpatrick claims his admirable win

Matt Fitzpatrick with the championship trophy after his victory in Boston on Sunday.
Matt Fitzpatrick with the championship trophy after his victory in Boston on Sunday.

Thoughts for a fascinating and ultimately thrilling US Open, which thankfully climbed above the civil war in professional competitive golf to remind us why we’ve been doing it this way for more than a century…

Matt Fitzpatrick smashes his typecasting

First, the new champion. Matt Fitzpatrick had been typecast as a ‘great game, but not long enough’.

It’s possible to be a relatively short-hitter and successful in the pros. Luke Donald was World No 1 for a good while fairly recently, remember.

But in the third decade of the 21st century, given the terrain the major tours play on these days, distance is the premier currency.

‘Drive for show, putt for dough’ has long been consigned to the cliche bin. Indeed, it’s been proven not to be true by one of Fitzpatrick’s advisers.

Edoardo Molinari, as we noted when he was appointed one of Henrik Stenson’s Ryder Cup vice-captains, has long been studying stats.

He crunched the numbers a few years back that clearly showed, on the main tours, driving distance was the single biggest factor behind scoring well.

Fitzpatrick has also kept his own stats since his junior days, and found a kindred spirit in Molinari. They’ve worked closely over the last couple of years analysing the Englishman’s play. Fitzpatrick’s odd cack-handed chipping style is as a direct result of this analysis.

A precarious minefield, safely negotiated

But despite Ryder Cup recognition, until this season Fitzpatrick’s career appeared to be flat-lining. So he went for the extra length to try to bridge the disadvantage he felt he had.

This, of course, is a precarious minefield, one littered with the careers of can’t-miss prospects who altered their swings to try and get 20 more yards and instead lost what they had.

Another Italian, Matteo Manassero, is perhaps the best known example. He had a similarly glorious amateur record as Fitzpatrick and won four European Tour events by age 20.

He was the best teenage golfer I’ve ever seen. I saw Woods, McIlroy, Garcia, Spieth, Rose and many more at the same age.

Yet he’s just re-emerged this past year from the third-tier Alps Tour after nearly a decade of struggles after changing his swing in a search for more length.

Moving up the stats

Fitzpatrick and his coach Mike Walker have executed their changes seamlessly, however, increasing his clubhead speed to top levels.

The Englishman thus gained the extra yards he needed – from around 130th on Tour for driving distance to currently 60th, just short of the tour average.

In the strokes gained stat off the tee, he’s moved up from 15th to 7th. He’s gained distance without sacrificing any of the accuracy that was his hallmark.

It was actually an old, largely discredited stat, that underlined his play on Sunday – 17 out of 18 greens in regulation.

But stats can’t deliver the proper Yorkshire grit he displayed. In coming back so quickly from being so crestfallen by his Sunday display in the final group at Southern Hills three weeks ago. From the occasional blips he had this particular Sunday.

The shot out of the bunker at 18 recalled Sandy Lyle’s famous shot at Augusta in 1988. Lyle then holed his putt for birdie, but you could definitely argue that Fitzpatrick’s bunker shot was more difficult.

A championship to bolster golf’s proper treasures

If you were looking for one major championship to reaffirm competitive professional golf’s historic values in this era of chaos, then the US Open might not have been your first choice.

But after an ultimately thrilling end to four fascinating days at The Country Club in Boston, you felt those values had been bolstered just a little more.

We’ve seen the USGA drop the ball – rolling off an unplayable green – more than often. If rebel tours of whatever colour or name want to point the finger at old-fashioned, last century practices, blundering blazers and endemic pomposity, this was the major to do it.

Instead, the USGA got out of their own way for once. It was recognisably a US Open style championship, but not outlandishly so. Weather conditions didn’t oblige just the way they wanted. Yet to get a winner at six-under – a score not surpassed all weekend – was pretty reasonable.

Moreover, it underlined what’s really vital in golf, and it’s not money (although Fitzpatrick’s $3.5m for winning is a record).

The Canadian Open and the way it was played helped to a degree. But this showed the vast chasm between what’s being presented as the future of golf and what the game’s chief treasures actually are.

Expect that to be further underlined at the historic championship in a month’s time.

The immediate road ahead

And what will happen between now and then? The rumours that LIV had two top ten players ready to declare for them dulled slightly over the weekend.

The USGA and R&A appear to accept they’ve been stuck with this situation in 2022. But the USGA’s Mike Whan indicated that won’t stay the same beyond this year, and bans are possible. There will be no convergence between the USGA and the R&A.

Jay Monahan goes before a players meeting today at the Travellers Championship to explain what he’s got up his sleeve now that his bluff’s been called. It’s thought unlikely to waver those tempted to go to LIV’s next event in Portland.

And on Thursday Keith Pelley finally reveals what the DP World Tour’s going to do. It’s hard to imagine they’ll break ranks with the PGA Tour. Even more so on the eve of the first co-sanctioned event of the strategic partnership, the Scottish Open.

But predicting what tours, governing bodies and players will do has proved a fraught business already.

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