BROOKLINE, Mass. — Before Sunday, England’s Matt Fitzpatrick had never won a professional golf tournament in the United States.
Now, he has won two of the biggest golf tournaments in the world on the same course. Nine years after winning the U.S. Amateur at The Country Club outside Boston, Fitzpatrick captured his first PGA Tour victory at the 122nd U.S. Open on the same course on Sunday with a 1-shot win over Will Zalatoris and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler.
Fitzpatrick joins Jack Nicklaus as the only male golfers to win a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open at the same course (Nicklaus did it at Pebble Beach in 1961 and 1972, respectively).
Here are five things we learned in the U.S. Open this week:
1. It was Fitzpatrick’s time
Fitzpatrick became the first player to get his first PGA Tour victory in a major since fellow Englishman Danny Willet won the 2016 Masters. But it’s not like Fitzpatrick hadn’t won as a professional before.
Fitzpatrick, 27, won seven times on the European Tour (now the DP World Tour), including twice at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He had been trending in the right direction in majors, with a tie for 14th at the Masters and a tie for fifth at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills last month. The performance at Southern Hills, perhaps more than any other, proved to Fitzpatrick that he could compete at this level.
“With it being a major, it’s quite different than a regular PGA Tour event,” Fitzpatrick said. “At the end of the day, they’re just really hard to win. I think up until Southern Hills, really, I didn’t really appreciate how hard it is actually to win a major. Yeah, I’ve not challenged, really, up until then.
“I think, myself included, and people on the outside maybe think it’s easier than it is. You just have to look at Tiger [Woods]. He knocked off so many in such a quick span. That’s why I think people think, ‘Oh, it’s a piece of cake; it’s like a regular Tour event.’ But it’s not.”
And, of course, Fitzpatrick’s history at The Country Club was an advantage that others didn’t have. He stayed in the same house with the same host family that he had at the 2013 U.S. Amateur.
“I certainly think it gives me an edge over the others, yeah,” Fitzpatrick said the night before the final round. “I genuinely do believe that. It’s a real, obviously, positive moment in my career. It kind of kickstarted me.”
2. Rory is the face of the PGA Tour
McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, once again failed to end his eight-year drought without a major championship. He is now 0-for-29 in majors since last winning one at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla.
McIlroy, 33, was 4 under heading into the weekend at The Country Club, but never got anything going on Saturday and Sunday, at least not until too late. He carded birdies on Nos. 14 and 15, but missed good chances at the final two holes.
“It’s not win or bust,” said McIlroy, who finished tied for fifth at 2 under. “It’s not as if where I finished is the same as not playing on the weekend. I guess when I look back, will I remember the fifth place I had at Brookline? Probably not. … I played well enough to give myself a chance to win. I didn’t get the job done, but I’m closer than I have been in a while, which is good.”
But McIlroy’s best work came earlier in the week, when he once again stood up for the PGA Tour. He criticized younger players who left for LIV Golf for taking the “easy way out” and called their decisions shortsighted.
“I understand. Yes, because a lot of these guys are in their late 40s,” McIlroy said. ‘In Phil [Mickelson’s] case, early 50s. Yeah, I think everyone in this room would say to themselves that their best days are behind them. That’s why I don’t understand for the guys that are a similar age to me going because I would like to believe that my best days are still ahead of me, and I think theirs are, too. So that’s where it feels like you’re taking the easy way out.”
3. The USGA got it right
Overall, the golf course and setup got rave reviews from players. Yes, it was difficult. The wind was swirling, the third cut of rough was ankle deep, and the greens were small and firm. Overnight rain and less wind prevented the typical Sunday conditions in the U.S. Open from ever developing.
“Other than the tiniest chipping green, I thought it was the best place I’ve played in a while,” Collin Morikawa said Sunday. “There’s only been a handful of courses where I really step foot on property, and you see it for a short period of time, and then you think you’re going to love it, and this was one of them. There’s no B.S. around that. It’s a good golf course.
“You really have to plot your way around. You’ve got to think through it. I thought it was a course that you could play pretty well at and a course that could kind of hurt you in the back pretty quickly. I think I got both ends of that, but overall, yeah, I loved it.”
The USGA has been heavily criticized for course conditions at the U.S. Open in the recent past, but give it credit for getting this one right. Tyrrell Hatton didn’t even complain.
“The golf course, obviously, got some rain [Saturday], so it was a little more receptive than it’s been all week, which probably is why you see some lower scores coming down the stretch,” said Gary Woodland, the 2019 U.S. Open winner. “The wind has died down a little bit now. It would have been interesting if we didn’t get the rain last night. I think it would have been similar to yesterday. But [Saturday] was what they wanted, and that’s what you want in a U.S. Open. It was hard. Conditions were brutal. The golf course set up perfectly.”
4. The LIV Golf guys didn’t have a good week
The buildup to the U.S. Open centered around the ongoing battle for professional golf’s soul between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the breakaway circuit being fronted by former world No. 1 golfer Greg Norman and financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The USGA was put in a difficult position when PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspended 17 players for playing in LIV Golf’s inaugural event outside London last week. Some of those players, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Kevin Na, had already made the field through exemptions, and it wouldn’t have been fair to kick them out after the fact.
Once the tournament started on Thursday, however, the LIV Golf roster wasn’t much of a factor. Only four of the 15 players who either competed in the London event or have announced they’ll play in the next one in Portland, Oregon, made the cut in the U.S. Open. None of the ones that stuck around for the weekend played very well. Johnson was the highest finisher at 4 over. England’s Richard Bland was 8 over, Patrick Reed was 10 over and Bryson DeChambeau was 13 over.
That’s the problem with LIV Golf right now. Outside of DJ, the majority of players who have defected from the Tour are either aging ones or shells of their former selves. Reed hasn’t won since January 2021 and has just two top-10s in 20 starts this season. DeChambeau hasn’t won since March 2021 and is working his way back from left hand surgery. He has made just seven starts this season. It was his seventh consecutive finish outside the top 25 in a major, the longest such drought of his career.
The PGA Tour-LIV Golf feud isn’t going to end anytime soon. While most top players, including Scheffler, Zalatoris, Morikawa and McIlroy, say they’re sticking with the Tour, a slow exodus of other players will probably continue over the next several weeks. LIV Golf is expected to announce the 48-man field for the Portland event early this week. There is speculation that a couple of notable players might be among the latest defections.
5. The fans still love Phil
The USGA couldn’t have been too excited that Mickelson skipped the Masters, the major he loves the most, and the PGA Championship, an event he won in 2021 to become the oldest major champion at age 51. That put the U.S. Open in the crosshairs for Mickelson’s return to competitive golf in the United States.
Although Mickelson’s news conference on Monday was pretty uncomfortable — he skated around the most difficult questions — his reception from golf fans was pretty welcoming. Sure, there were a few catcalls about blood money and betrayal, but overall Boston sports fans, who have a reputation for being among the most spirited, were pretty warm to Lefty.
Despite the adulation, Mickelson had to face a stark reality this week. His days of playing competitive golf against the best players in the world are over. Mickelson shot 11 over in the first two rounds, his fifth-worst 36-hole total in his major career. While we might have been expecting too much from a 52-year-old who hadn’t played a competitive round in the U.S. since late January, his best days on the course are clearly in the rear-view mirror.