‘This time I know I am ready!’: Matt Fitzpatrick insists he is a different player having ‘evolved’ after his 2016 Ryder Cup horror show at Hazeltine
- Matt Fitzpatrick’s Ryder Cup debut in 2016 couldn’t have been more calamitous
- He didn’t play at all on the first day and then suffered defeats in his two matches
- He now exudes a belief that was palpably missing at Hazeltine five years ago
- Fitzpatrick says he is more experienced and that he does not fear his opponents
Matt Fitzpatrick’s Ryder Cup debut in 2016 could hardly have been more calamitous. He never played at all on the first day and then, when he did get a game, he suffered heavy defeats in his two matches.
Now, if you listen to those who think a medium-sized hitter will have little chance on a bomber’s course, he is in for a repeat going over at Whistling Straits this week.
This time, however, the 26-year-old from Sheffield exudes a quiet belief that was palpably missing at Hazeltine five years ago.
Matt Fitzpatrick’s (above) Ryder Cup debut in 2016 could hardly have been more calamitous
‘I think my singles game against Zach Johnson in 2016 probably illustrates the difference,’ he said. ‘I remember standing on the first tee and thinking, “Wow, I’m playing Zach Johnson, he’s a former Masters and Open champion and as gritty as they come. I was not playing well anyway and, of course, he beat me easily.
‘Now if I play the equivalent of Zach this week I’ll be thinking, “Wow, he’s good but if I play well I’ll beat him or at least give him a hell of a match.” I guess that’s what five years of evolution as a player does for you.’
Fitzpatrick has spoken to enough people in the build-up to know the venue is going to be set up for those players who have a shot in their locker that he does not possess — the 300-yard carry through the air with a driver. He is far less bothered than he would have been if this was a major.
He never played at all on the first day and then he suffered heavy defeats in his two matches
Fitzpatrick played against Zach Johnson (above) in his first match in the 2016 Ryder Cup
‘When you are playing strokeplay it is a huge disadvantage but I’d argue it’s a different matter when it’s match play with alternate formats,’ he explained.
‘Match play is all about putting pressure on your opponent. If I can putt as I know I can and hole a couple of good ones early on to go two up, that’s not going to do much for a big hitter’s confidence is it?’
Fitzpatrick’s development from a starry-eyed rookie is demonstrated by the amount of conversations and texts he has had with captain Padraig Harrington. ‘He’s been brilliant in that regard,’ says Fitzpatrick.
‘I’ve played with him in a few events as well. It’s made me feel like I’m at that stage in my career where I am an established player who was expected to make the team. Of course that will bring extra pressure to perform but, to be honest, I welcome that chance to prove myself.
‘I want to show that I’m a different player now who can compete with anyone. I’ll be honest, in 2016 I don’t think I was quite ready. In 2018 I might have been ready but didn’t make the team. This time, I know I’m ready.’
After winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last December, Fitzpatrick embarked on an impressive set of results in America at the start of year. From February to April, he notched five top 11 finishes in seven events. In July, he lost a play-off for the Scottish Open.
He said he was star struck by Johnson – whereas now he would be much more composed
Fitzpatrick’s development from a starry-eyed rookie is demonstrated by the amount of conversations and texts he has had with captain Padraig Harrington (above)
Since then, the results have been more sketchy, but there were encouraging signs he was running into form at the BMW PGA at Wentworth. ‘I like the fact it felt like I cruised into a top 20,’ he said.
What did he learn from playing in front of a hostile crowd at Hazeltine? ‘I think the worst I heard was, “Did your mum cut your hair?” and I could cope with that one!’ he said. ‘It might be different this time. I guess it depends on how the match is going and how many beers they have had.’
Without a victory on American soil since becoming the first Englishman in more than a century to win the US Amateur in 2013, Fitzpatrick can change a few perceptions this week.
What about going up against an American team that, statistically, might be their strongest yet? ‘I think we get told that before every Ryder Cup, don’t we?’ he responded. ‘As long as they feel that and we keep winning, that will do me.’
l Matt Fitzpatrick is an Under Armour athlete. Shop the collection as worn by Matt at Sports Direct.
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