US Open 2022: Matt Fitzpatrick’s exhilarating win is a reminder of why major championship golf remains unmatched

US Open 2022: Matt Fitzpatrick’s exhilarating win is a reminder of why major championship golf remains unmatched

BROOKLINE, Mass. — This week of the 2022 U.S. Open began with a discussion of the worst parts of professional golf and ended with a handful of moments that showcased the game at its best.

Matt Fitzpatrick shot a 68 on Sunday at the Country Club to beat Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler with one shot as he won his first major championship at the same venue where he won the 2013 US Amateur.

It was a performance marked by a power and presence we weren’t used to seeing from Fitzpatrick with a closing kick worthy of the golf course he was played on.

When Phil Mickelson took to the microphone on Monday morning to address the rebel LIV golf league he helped launch, a veil swept over one of the finest weeks of the year. His dark shame permeated the rest of the property and foreshadowed a future that remains undesirable.

Like it or not – and many have been shouting their positions loud and clear – LIV Golf is here to stay. These are all the players, caddies, agents, managers, media and staff discussed this week at Brookline. He shook the pillars on which professional golf currently stands.

Greg Norman’s pet project, however, cannot (and probably never will) permeate the fortress built around the 16 days of the year when major championships are contested.

Thursday’s first round served as shelter, as did the 54 holes that followed.

The ranking of this US Open produced this weekend has only exacerbated this reality. Collin Morikawa led halfway as he tried to become the first golfer to win three majors in his first 11 starts since the Masters began in 1934. He trailed off with a 77 on Saturday, but at his place stood the three best players in the world. At one point Sunday afternoon, Scottie Scheffler (No. 1), Jon Rahm (No. 2) and Rory McIlroy (No. 3) were among the top four in the standings.

Rahm and McIlroy couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities, and McIlroy wasted one of the best putting performances of his career after leading the pack with nearly 10 strokes gained. Scheffler hung on for his entire life in the final stretch trying to complete the rare Masters-US Open double, and Fitzpatrick led Zalatoris by one on the turn, both looking for their first career majors and victories over the PGA Tour.

In the two hours that followed, a week devoted to everything but golf then delivered perhaps the best golf we have seen this year. A two-stroke swing at No. 11 gave Zalatoris a two-stroke lead over Fitzpatrick. Zalatoris, now a three-time major finalist, grabbed his ball out of the cup and pumped his fist vigorously, strutting around like a man determined to redeem that PGA Championship playoff loss to Justin Thomas a month ago.

Fitzpatrick fired back at No. 13 with a right hook that belied the smoothness with which he normally performs. The tournament was again tied. Pars at No 14 resulted in a long wait at the 15th tee as fans crowded the narrow fairway overlooking the final stretch where the turkeys (literally turkeys) frequently turned this week.

Fitzpatrick looked to the future. What was he thinking there when he was at the top of the US Open standings with the man standing next to him? Maybe the past, when he won the Am here in 2013. Maybe the future and the four holes he had left to break the deadlock. He explained after the event how hard it is to stop envisioning the trophy within reach.

“You’re just trying to say to yourself, ‘Stop. Take a break. Stop thinking about it. It’s not there yet,'” Fitzpatrick said.

This was not there again, but after this hole, it was almost up to him to hold on. Fitzpatrick sprayed his way to the right, but somehow got up and down in the middle of a horseshoe of people 220 yards away to reach 6 under, while bogeying to drop two under.

“It was one of the best shots I’ve had all day,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick barely made it home, and that was barely enough. After an easy 3-4 run at numbers 16 and 17, he hit his tee shot on number 18 into a fairway bunker. As he walked towards him, Boston fans broke through police control behind them and surrounded their former and future champion.

Fitzpatrick then hit “one of the best shots I’ve ever hit” out of that bunker, two putts for par and dodged a missed birdie from Zalatoris that would have sent the tournament to a two-hole playoff. As soon as Zalatoris’ putt went over the hole, Fitzpatrick turned to caddy Billy Foster, who was already crying.

Chaos ensued, as always at the end of major championships. Rory McIlroy was there to hug his Ryder Cup teammate. Fitzpatrick’s brother, Alex, who caddyed for him that AM 2013, was in tears. Fitzpatrick kissed his dad on Father’s Day; both could barely breathe.

It was emblematic of one of the great extended finishes of a major championship of the past decade. While the main players may not become Multi-Major winners or future Ryder Cup captains, the end of the week was less about their applause and more about what the purest version of this looks like. Game.

It’s not the home of golf, but in the United States you can’t necessarily choose a better or more quirky home site than The Country Club. It is one of the five founding clubs of the United States Golf Association, which hosted the tournament it hosted this week. The oldest sites often host the largest golf course.

It’s hard to explain to the uninitiated how playing for a top prize of $3.15 million is somehow the the purest form of sports. However, being among the bottom pairings of the final nine in contention on Major Championship Sundays is probably the position where money is least considered. Boston’s dark gray backdrop made the scene look as raw as it looked.

Golf lately has felt so manipulated and choreographed. It seemed impromptu and wild.

It felt like it was important.

It was also fitting that in a year where players have tried to game the system to figure out how they can work less and earn more, this is one player who may have worked the more on his game that thrived at Brookline. Fitzpatrick has transformed his body and his game. The numbers don’t lie.

He finished T16 in driving distance this week, which doesn’t seem like a lot until you realize he ranked T127 on the PGA Tour last year. He edged Thomas and McIlroy this week. He also punished the fairways, indicating a complete game that is the best it has ever been. Fitzpatrick has a career year in every category except putting, hinting at a future in which winning could become routine.

He didn’t even have to rely on a putter that he often relied on. He finished 42nd in putting, while McIlroy finished first. If you had spoken that stat on Monday and who had won the event, you would have made a ton of money.

Fitzpatrick proudly paraded the US Open trophy around the property as he moved from interview to interview on Sunday night. His responses were mostly mild and repetitive.

One comment, however, stood out. It served as the perfect volley return for players who spent the first part of the week defending the business decisions they made in joining LIV Golf and potentially giving up the opportunity to play in future major championships.

“The feeling is out of this world,” Fitzpatrick said of holding the US Open trophy in the same spot where he once held his cousin. “It’s so cliché, but it’s something you dream of as a kid. Yeah, to achieve that, I can retire a happy man tomorrow.”

The past fortnight has been, as PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a recent letter to players, “money, money, money.” We’ll revisit that conversation on Monday and beyond because — if you believe the rumors circulating at Brookline — a few former big winners and potential future winners are considering jumping ship and tying themselves with the PGA Tour rival.

For four days, however – and in particular for the last nine holes on Sunday – we shared an experience that all the money in the world couldn’t buy: to fight for and win a major championship.

In a world where it seems like anything and anyone can be bought, the sheer joy and pleasure of this experience is simply impossible to monetize.

Rick Gehman, Patrick McDonald and Kyle Porter recap the US Open 2022. Follow and listen to The First Cut on Apple podcast and Spotify.

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