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  • Alistair Tait

Fitzpatrick Aces Sir Henry Cotton's Test

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

Was Matthew Fitzpatrick up to the Sir Henry Cotton’s test?

That was the question I asked myself 10 years ago when I watched him win the R&A Boys Amateur Championship at Notts Golf Club (Hollinwell). I wasn’t sure then, and I wasn’t sure as he stood on the 72nd hole yesterday in the US Open at Brookline.

The late Tommy Horton once told me a story about Sir Henry Cotton. During a European Open at Sunningdale, the Maestro and Tommy were on the patio watching European Tour pros on the practice putting green. Henry asked Tommy to identify a young golfer working on his stroke. Tommy duly did so, to which Henry responded:

“Is he a good player?"
“He’s a fine player,” Tommy said, before rattling off said golfer’s accomplishments.
“Ah, but can he make a four down the last to win The Open, Tommy? That’s the ultimate test.”

Cotton was more than good enough to make a four down the last to win The Open. He won three, including that record setting victory at Royal St George’s in 1934.

I thought a lot of Sir Henry’s ultimate test when I covered amateur golf on practically a full-time basis. I could rhyme off many names, male and female, who seemed like couldn’t miss kids only to miss big time.

Fitzpatrick was impressive in that Boys Amateur. He defeated Welshman Henry James 10&8. The Sheffield native was nine up at lunch following a 66, and back in the clubhouse after closing out James on the 10th hole. It is the fourth biggest victory in the history of the Boys.

An impressive win yes, but was he good enough to make a four down the last to win an Open? I wasn’t so sure.

When his tee shot found the fairway bunker on the 72nd hole at Brookline, I thought he was going to fail that test, that he and caddie Billy Foster weren’t going to get their hands on the US Open trophy.

Boy was I, and so many others, wrong.

We were perhaps fooled by that baby face, by his affable nature.

Winning the silver medal as low amateur in the 2013 Open Championship and then the US Amateur obviously changed opinions. Even then, not many thought he’d win a major.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Fitzpatrick at Hallamshire Golf Club in early 2014. He’d just quit Northwestern University after only three months, and was on the verge of turning pro.

“I didn’t think I had a future in the game after I won the British Boys,” he told me. “It was a good achievement, but it wasn’t as if a light went on in my head that said I’ve got a chance to do something in this game. It wasn’t until I qualified for The Open and made the cut that I realised I might have a future in the game.”

A future yes, but a star in the making? Even accomplished Walker Cup player and three-time captain Nigel Edwards admitted Fitzpatrick didn’t come across as a future world beater when he first met him in January 2012 at an England Golf training session, after the Welshman assumed his post as England Golf performance director.

“I wouldn’t say he jumped out as one who would go on to win the US Amateur,” Edwards said. “He was obviously a good player, but he’s grown enormously since then. He’s found an inner confidence that has lifted him above the parapet.
“Matthew’s very grounded, very down to earth and unassuming. He’s got a lot of confidence but he doesn’t shout from the rooftops.”

Fellow Sheffield native and three-time European Tour winner Mark Roe said “shouting from the roof tops” wasn’t a Sheffield thing.

“In Sheffield you work hard and be glad for what you’ve achieved rather than feel you deserve your achievements,” Roe said. “That background will stand him in good stead.”

Fitzpatrick has remained true to that ideal throughout seven European Tour wins, and will remain that way as US Open champion.

“I like to think I’m the same sort of person I’ve always been,” he said that day eight years ago as we sat in Hallamshire Golf Club. “Mum and dad keep me grounded. I really don’t like coming across as having a big head. I’d hate to be that way.”

Fitzpatrick turned pro that year with Andrew “Chubby” Chandler’s ISM stable. A quote I got from Chandler is laughable now considering what he achieved at Brookline. Chandler said:

“He’s not got the biggest game but he’s certainly got a very mature game. ‘Tidy’ is a great word to describe him.
“Certain courses will suit him and certain ones won’t. We made a conscious decision not to go over to the United States because there are quite a few bombers courses and he’s not suited to that.”

Oh yes he is!

Somewhere up in that great clubhouse in the sky Sir Henry Cotton is smiling at the unassuming Englishman who aced his ultimate test.

#JustSaying: “I wouldn’t advise any professional golfer to marry before the age of 30. Marriage means a division of interests, and golf, particularly tournament golf, demands all your time.” Sir Henry Cotton

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