Last week the US Open returned to The Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, for the first time since 1988, when Curtis Strange beat Nick Faldo in an 18-hole playoff for the title. There was no chance of a repeat of that scenario: not simply because Strange and Faldo are beyond that sort of thing now but because, in the event of overtime, matters would be decided by a two-hole playoff. (Two holes because, given that the US Open was the final one of the four majors to forsake a full round in order to determine the outcome in the event of a tie, the other obvious options had already been taken – the Masters one hole; the USPGA Championship three holes; the Open four holes). We did, however, have a championship that ultimately came down to an American vs an Englishman. This time with a different ending.
The composite layout used for the championship had undergone some changes in the intervening period (and also since the 1999 Ryder Cup was played at the same venue) but the iconic 17th hole essentially remains the same – even if these days it’s a short par-four rather than requiring a drive and a mashie (about a 5-iron) as it did at the 1913 US Open, when a 20-year-old American amateur, Francis Ouimet, birdied it in his 18-hole playoff effectively to kill off the challenges of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, two titans of the game from Great Britain, both born in Jersey; also, effectively to announce the dawn of the arrival of the new international force in golf: the United States of America.
Talking of amateurs, the last Brit to win the US Amateur was Matt Fitzpatrick, at Brookline in 2013. He was only the second Englishman to take it and the 27-year-old Yorkshireman, who had been in the final Sunday pairing at the USPGA Championship in May, was there again at Brookline, this time alongside Will Zalatoris, who had lost out to Justin Thomas in the playoff at Southern Hills last month. Level at four under par, they led by a shot from the defending champion, Jon Rahm. Rahm never got going but Scottie Scheffler, the world No. 1 and Masters champion, who started the day two shots off the pace, certainly did, with four birdies in the first six holes. Battle was joined.
Both Fitzpatrick and Scheffler stumbled to bogeys on the 11th hole, a mere 108 yards, downhill at that, but while Scheffler could not recover in time, Fitzpatrick did, holing from 50 feet for a birdie on the 13th and from 20 feet at the 15th. When Zalatoris bogeyed that hole, the Englishman had a grip he would not relinquish. He hit a sensational 8-iron from the fairway bunker at the last – “Matt’s shot on 18 is going to be shown probably for the rest of US Open history,” Zalatoris said graciously – and made a steady par. Zalatoris had a 15-footer for birdie to force a playoff, and it looked in all the way until it wasn’t.
It was Fitzpatrick’s first win on the PGA Tour – “I had a big monkey on my back,” he admitted – while Zalatoris is still seeking that. It surely can’t be far away. Fitzpatrick’s closing round of 68 gave him a total of 274, six under par, a shot fewer than Zalatoris and Scheffler. “I love this golf course,” he said (probably an understatement). “It suits me so well. I have been playing well for a while and I think it all just fell into place that this was the place it was going to happen.”
When all was said and done, Fitzpatrick had achieved what only one other man had before – won the US Amateur and the US Open over the same course. That man? That would be Jack Nicklaus, who won the former title at Pebble Beach in 1961 and the latter there in 1972. At Brookline, Matt made it a golden anniversary of a sort he would never forget.
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