He’s a man with a mission. Two actually. Joint-leader with Thomas Detry after three rounds of the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club, the next 24 hours are going to be more than a little hectic for Matt Fitzpatrick. But win, lose or draw, the former US Amateur champion won’t be hanging around in Scotland. As soon as he is able to escape (worst case scenario being involved in a lengthy playoff following the expected 5.15pm finish (local time) to the final roundhe’ll be off to London, nearly 650 kilometres away, in an attempt to catch at least the second half of the England versus Italy final of soccer’s European Championship (kickoff 8pm).
Indeed, after completing a four-under-par day of 67 that Fitzpatrick felt hardly represented his “A-game,” it was sometimes hard to tell where the patriotic Yorkshireman’s real priorities were lying. While he was making all the right noises about “one hole at a time” and expressing his propensity for seaside golf in this part of the world (he won the silver medal as leading amateur in the 2013 Open Championship next door at Muirfield), Fitzpatrick’s eyes lit up at any mention of “Euro 2020.”
Which is not to say he didn’t view the prospect without at least a tinge of regret. Playing well – and therefore late on Sunday – was something he felt might just be inevitable as soon as he availed himself of match tickets.
“I’m going,” he said, with a big smile. “Regardless. I’m just going to try. Even if just for the second half, I’ll get in. My mates will be there. My brother and three of my pals and I’ll just join up with them. It’s quite funny because, literally the whole week once England got through on Wednesday, I was just telling the lads: I have to try and go. I don’t care how, I’ll just get there and, hopefully, the tee times work out. I literally could not have put myself in a worse position though. I know I’m going to switch my phone on and I’m going to be a million texts from my mates. You couldn’t write it. The funny thing is that, deep down, I just knew it was going to happen.”
The same can’t be said for the final round of this $US8 million Rolex Series event. Detry sits alongside Fitzpatrick on 14-under-par after a 68, and as many as 25 others are within five of the leaders. That lengthy list most prominently includes the ominous figure of Jon Rahm. The US Open champion is one shot back following a 69 uncharacteristically marred by a pair of 6s on par 5s. Last week’s winner of the Irish Open, Australian Lucas Herbert, is alone in fourth place on 12-under, with the likes Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington and Justin Thomas dotted amidst the crowded chasing pack.
First things first though. While he wasn’t giving much away about how exactly he was going to make his way from southern Scotland to London – “I’m going in a plane, then a car,” he said with another smile – Fitzpatrick was more forthcoming about what he has done well to get himself into position to win what will be his seventh European Tour title. It was a mixture of things.
“I feel like everything, at least in streaks,” he said. “I drove it very well on the first day. Then I hit my irons really well on Friday. And today I putted well. I hope that doesn’t mean I’ll chip well on Sunday because that’ll mean I’m miles behind. But the biggest thing for me is, having looked at stats earlier in the year, I’ve just been making too many bogeys. So far this week, I’ve only had three. So damage limitation has been a big thing.”
There was a bit of luck too. At the short 14th, Fitzpatrick’s tee shot was headed “miles from where I was aiming” until it struck the dry dyke behind the putting surface and rebounded onto the green. That slice of good fortune didn’t lead to a birdie, but two did follow at 16 and 17. Clearly the 26-year-old was fully focused on the matter in hand, football or no football. Well, maybe not fully. Fitzpatrick did concede that thoughts of the big final were actually helping his demeanour by diminishing his normal – and sometimes damaging – level of on-course intensity.
“This does show me that, in a way, you have to go out there and not care,” he said. “That’s been a big thing, to be honest. Every time something hasn’t gone my way, I’m genuinely thinking: Oh well, I’ve got more chance of getting to the match. I think it just shows that, in my personal attitude, I have to be more like that. It’s just golf at the end of the day.”
[Photo: Getty Images]