Omega European Masters champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who came up through the ranks at my home club in Sheffield, is not just a gifted golfer but also a wonderfully grounded young man
Dan Walker: A Love Letter To Matt Fitzpatrick
I make no excuses for the fact that this month’s column amounts to a love letter to Matthew Fitzpatrick.
It has been my privilege to know him for quite a few years, and in that time he’s developed from the skinny little Yorkshire lad who would graft for eight hours a day on the Hallamshire Golf Club practice green to one of the most exciting young talents in golf.
The first time I played with Matt he was still a teenager – a teenager who appeared to be a golf robot, hitting the middle of every fairway and every green on his way to a ludicrously low score.
I remember asking his coach, Mike Walker, how it was possible to continually hit the ball so straight.
“A strong left hand and a bucket load of talent,” came the reply.
I tried the strong left hand thing myself but sadly didn’t have the all-important second requirement.
Matt’s “bucket load of talent” is there for all to see.
He started swinging at the age of nine, broke par at 13 and then signalled his intent to be a serious golfer by winning the Boys Amateur Championship in 2012.
That’s when the golfing world sat up and thought, “Who’s this lad from Sheffield?”
The following year, Matt made it through Final Qualfiying for The Open, and I remember meeting up with him on the Tuesday at Muirfield after convincing BBC Radio 5 Live to interview him for our preview programme.
I promised the editor that he was the ‘real deal’ and not just another young golfer who would fall by the wayside.
The following day we were talking on the practice ground. He was looking to play a quick nine holes.
I introduced him to Ian Poulter, who was having a knock with Lee Westwood.
Rumour has it he thrashed the pair of them and by Sunday afternoon the Silver Medal was secured.
A month later came the defining moment of his amateur career.
In Boston, he became the first Englishman in about 7,000 years (actually 102) to be crowned United States Amateur Champion.
Since turning pro he’s regularly opened the doors to the trophy cabinet, with 2016 yielding much silverware including the DP World Tour Championship – the season-ending event in the Race to Dubai.
With that victory he became the youngest Englishman to win three European Tour titles, eclipsing some fella called Faldo.
In September of this year came title number four after a nerveless play-off win in Switzerland.
I could go on about his ability with club and ball, but what I really admire are the qualities Matt exudes as a human being rather than just as a golfer.
He and I are both patrons of the same charity – The Children’s Hospital – in his home city of Sheffield.
Last year, two weeks before playing in his first ever Ryder Cup, he turned up to tee it up in our charity day alongside Danny Willett.
Even more impressively, less than 48 hours after winning in Switzerland this year, he was back at Hallamshire to support the charity once more.
I texted him on Sunday night to congratulate him, fearing that he might not be able to make it back.
Within seconds came the response: “Thanks Dan, what time do you need me on Tuesday?”
Many sports stars know the importance of looking ‘normal’, but with Matt there is no act.
He was barracked at the Ryder Cup by American fans for his baby face.
“Does your mother cut your hair?” was the barbed cry.
I can confirm she doesn’t because last time I wandered into a Sheffield barbers, he was waiting in line like everyone else – no special treatment.
Related: Matt Fitzpatrick: What’s in the bag?
Much is made of the fact he still drives a Mondeo.
His mum and dad (Russ and Sue) are lovely, involved in his career in a good way and help to keep him grounded.
They may also soon have another golfer in the family to look after.
Matt’s younger brother, Alex, claimed both the men’s and boys’ amateur titles in Yorkshire this year and has a short game to rival his older sibling.
Alex was also playing in that same charity golf day I was telling you about earlier – he had nine birdies and an eagle in a stupidly impressive round.
Alex has a bright future, but his big bro’ is already well on the path to golfing greatness.
He is admired by his peers, adored in Sheffield, respected by golf’s technical titans and able to deal with the pressure of the big occasion.
But, most importantly of all, he has not forgotten where he came from and how crucial that has been in the forging of his career.
He may not always be behind the wheel of a Mondeo, but Matt Fitzpatrick is destined to be at the top of the game for many years to come.
You can see Dan on BBC Breakfast Mon-Wed or every Saturday on Football Focus. You may also find him on a golf course… probably missing a four-footer
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