BROOKLINE, Mass. – Will Zalatoris took a peek at Matt Fitzpatrick’s ball and was glad it wasn’t his. Fairway bunker, grassy lip in the way, 72nd hole of the U.S. Open, at least 160 yards to the pin – no, thank you. Fitzpatrick is only 27, but every step toward this moment required all the strength in both legs, and here was the final question on the test, a three-parter: could he strategize, breathe, and execute?
He knew he led Zalatoris by a stroke at The Country Club, but he also knew Zalatoris was one of the great clutch iron players in the world. Fitzpatrick was sure Zalatoris would hit the green from the fairway. He decided he needed to hit it, too. All he had to do was fade his 9-iron around that lip and float it toward the pin with his first major championship on the line, and not think about fairway bunker shots being one of his weaknesses, and not rush or take too long, and so he choked up a bit on the club, stepped into the bunker confidently, and …
“One in 20, at best,” Zalatoris said of the shot, which stopped rolling 18 feet from the hole. “To pull it off in that situation was incredible.”
A two-putt and Zalatoris near-birdie later, Fitzpatrick is your U.S. Open champion. This isn’t just great for Fitzpatrick. It is great for golf.
The game is meant for those who find joy in suffering and suffer through joy. Fitzpatrick spent Saturday night trying not to think about the stakes: “You just try to tell yourself, ‘Just stop. Have a break. It’s not there yet.” Sunday morning, he felt confident. As he walked on the 14th hole, he told his caddie, “I hate this.”
He loves this. That is why he has achieved so much – there are plenty of more naturally talented golfers who will never win a major – and why his victory will be so celebrated among those who understand and care about the game. Before he left the course, Jack Nicklaus called him. Rory McIlroy walked onto the 72nd green to congratulate him. Some pro golfers are popular among their peers and some are not, for many reasons, but everybody respects the grind.
Three years ago, Fitzpatrick looked like he could only contend in majors on exactly the right layout and conditions. In 2020, he said of Bryson DeChambeau’s monstrous drives: ““It’s not a skill to hit the ball a long way in my opinion … I could go and see a bio-mechanist and I could gain 40 yards. That’s a fact.” He seemed out of touch, but then he did something incredible: He proved himself right. He started speed-training with a tool called The Stack System, and as he said Sunday, only half-joking, “I’m a bomber now.” It was a hard, miserable week, because the U.S. Open is supposed to be a hard, miserable week, and Fitzpatrick embraces hard, miserable weeks. A man who wins a major title chipping cross-handed has tried everything.
Saudi-funded LIV Golf is gross for a lot of reasons, but even if you put the source of the cash aside, the entire concept is antithetical to what pro golf should be. Golfers are supposed to work, tinker, battle their demons, tweak their putting, adjust their equipment, fight through injury, try and fail, and try and fail again – and know, all along, that 1,000 other golfers are doing all of that, too. The labor never stops. Two years ago, Collin Morikawa was the best iron player in the world whose stock shot was a baby cut; he hit one on a driveable par-4 at the 2020 PGA that led to an eagle and a victory. He could not have fathomed that he would arrive here this week favoring a draw over a cut, but he did, because he had to, because in golf, nothing works forever.
That is golf. It is McIlroy looking like he would easily win 10 majors and then going eight years without one, Morikawa going from Cal to major champion with astonishing speed, and Zalatoris going from Wake Forest to so close to three major championships that, as he said Sunday, “we’re talking inches.” It is Scottie Scheffler rising and Rickie Fowler falling.
Golf is not, and should never be, a few dozen elitists forming an exclusive group to enrich themselves no matter how they play. Every single golfer who signed up for LIV knows that, because they all had to grind their way to relevance once. They just don’t care.
Fitzpatrick seems like he never takes his mind off true achievement, and being wired like that takes an astounding level of mental toughness. A month ago, at the PGA, he shot 73 on the final day to eliminate himself from contention and put another potential doubt in his head. Some players would never recover. Fitzpatrick showed up on Sunday of the next major with the lead, hit 17 of 18 greens, and did not leave himself short-sided once all day.
And still, the line is so fine. When Scheffler arrived at the 119-yard 11th hole, the wind was gusting right to left. When he addressed the ball, it was blowing toward him. When he hit, it had died completely. His iron flew over the flagstick to the back of the green. He made bogey and ended up missing a playoff by one stroke.
Meanwhile, on No. 15, Zalatoris barely missed the fairway and Fitzpatrick hit his so far right that he later apologized for not yelling “Fore!” (He didn’t realize it was as far right as it was.) Zalatoris’s ball was buried in thick rough. Fitzpatrick, who had hit a worse shot, had a great lie on trampled grass. Fitzpatrick hit a magnificent 5-iron over a bunker and made birdie. Zalatoris left his approach way short and made bogey.
Fair? Unfair? It doesn’t matter. History does not stick around for a Q&A.
You just have to keep playing, keep looking ahead, keep your poise, and trust that after 72 holes, you will post the lowest number. Fitzpatrick called his bunker shot on 18 “a bit of hit and hope.” In golf, everyone hits and hopes. The game rewards those who do a whole lot more than that.
More U.S. Open Coverage From Morning Read:
> Collin Morikawa Finds Reason To Smile Again After Sunday’s 11-Shot Swing
> Jon Rahm’s Bid to Defend His U.S. Open Title Vanishes in Frustrating Sunday
> Matt Fitzpatrick's First Major Triumph Wasn't the Only One Celebrated at the U.S. Open
> Why Matt Fitzpatrick’s U.S. Open Trophy Engraving Took So Long
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