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  • Alistair Tait

Fitzpatrick Deserves More Respect

Add Matt Fitzpatrick’s name to the list of British golfers who haven’t received the respect they deserve, a list that includes Catriona Matthew, Paul Lawrie and Luke Donald.

Not that I really need to recap, but here goes. Fitzpatrick joined the major club with victory in the U.S. Open in June. A British sportsperson winning one of the game’s biggest championships is surely worthy of inclusion on the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, especially one with bags of personality.

Alas, no. Fitzpatrick’s name is nowhere to be seen among the six athletes who made the shortlist: Jessica Gadirova (gymnastics), Beth Mead (football), Eve Muirhead (curling) Ben Stokes (cricket), Ronnie O'Sullivan (snooker) and Jake Wightman (athletics).

Obviously the above have all excelled this sporting year, but so has Fitzpatrick. Anyone in this game knows how hard it’s been for English golfers to triumph in the U.S. Open. There have only been 10 English champions since the inaugural 1895 championship, and only three since Cyril Walker won the 1924 U.S. Open.

Fitzpatrick didn’t just win, he did so with one of the best shots ever to win a major championship, never mind the U.S. Open. That fairway bunker shot to the 72nd green is as good as it gets.

The Sheffield man’s journey to that U.S. Open victory is a story in itself. Caddie Billy Foster lit a fire in him by telling him in no uncertain terms he needed to buck up his attitude. Fitzpatrick listened to his experienced sidekick. He also worked hard on the mechanics of his swing to gain more ball speed, and increased his distance off the tee as a result.

Fitzpatrick nearly won this year's Race to Dubai, finishing fourth as Rory McIlroy topped the list. Moreover, the 28-year-old is currently ninth on the Official World Golf Ranking.

Now, imagine if an English tennis player, say British number one Cameron Norrie, had won this year’s U.S. Open. Do you think he’d have made the BBC short list? I do.

What is it about the racket and ball game compared to the stick and ball one that makes the British media go cock a hoop? Remember the hysteria when Emma Raducanu won the U.S. Open? She not only made the short list, she won. Would, say, Charlie Hull or Georgia Hall have been named BBC Sports Personality of the Year had they been crowned U.S. Women’s Open champion? That’s obviously pure conjecture, but I have my doubts.

So, this evening the BBC will announce the 2022 Sports Personality of the Year and Fitzpatrick has no chance of winning. The biggest victory of his life so far, a huge achievement for an English/British sportsperson and he'll (hopefully) only get a mention.

Matthew, Donald and Lawrie are among other golfers who haven’t received the recognition they truly deserve for outstanding feats in this game.

As I’ve written before, Matthew’s 2009 Women’s British Open victory was one of the greatest achievements by a Scottish/British athlete. She won that championship just 11 months after the birth of her and husband Graham’s second child, Sophie. Not only did she have to deal with the pressure of winning her first major, but the first Scottish women to win one of golf’s most coveted trophies. Rewards for that magnificent victory were few. She deserved better.

Donald reaching world number one remains a fantastic feat. He held that position for a cumulative 56 weeks in an age when fellow competitors were knocking it 30-50 yards past him. He was practically derided in some quarters, with many saying the system was defective because he hadn’t won a major. Yet Donald reached the top of the tree under the same system that saw Tiger Woods become world number one, and no one complained about a duff system at that time.

Lawrie’s story is all too familiar. He played arguably the greatest round of his life over the final 18 holes of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie, coming from 10 shots back in the final round to get into a playoff. He then hit two superlative 4-irons in the playoff, yet the focus that year was on Jean Van de Velde throwing the championship away. Lawrie’s performance was worthy of the title “Champion Golfer of the Year. Still is.

The above trio are probably not surprised Fitzpatrick’s not on the BBC shortlist. Truth is, neither are we. Major champion golfers don’t always get the full respect they deserve.

#JustSaying: “I always thought Matt was a winner but I must admit didn’t think he’d become as good as he has. He’s far better than I thought. He has an incredible work ethic; no one works harder. I can definitely see him winning further majors.” Caddie Billy Foster

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