[PHOTO: Logan Bowles]

When asked to explain how he played so well on the opening day of the Players Championship, carding a six-under-par 66 to stand a shot off the lead, Matt Fitzpatrick cited his driver.

“It felt a bit more like my old self,” he said.

When asked how long he hadn’t felt like himself, he had a surprising answer.

“Since February of last year, probably,” he admitted. “There’s a longer story to it, but yeah… just a mistake that no one knew about, and that’s what caused the issue.”

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The story unfolded gradually, under a volley of questions. Early in 2023, Fitzpatrick and his team put weights in the grip of his irons as an experiment, and for three to four weeks it proved successful. At that point, they decided to put the same weight – 4 grams – in the grip of his driver. In March 2023, he decided he didn’t want the weight in his irons anymore, so he took them all out.

The problem was, he forgot about the driver.

The weight remained… and remained… and remained. It remained, in fact, all the way through 2023 and into February 2024. That’s when the grip became so worn that he finally needed a regrip, and when the person who did the job back in England put too much tape on it, exceeding the maximum length, he took the club to Titleist for an adjustment.

“They regripped it for me, and they’re like, ‘Oh, you know there’s a weight in there,'” he remembered. “And I almost had a heart attack.”

All throughout 2023, the driver confounding him, even as he won at the RBC Heritage and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The effect of the extra weight, Fitzpatrick said, was to give more face rotation, and “more kick from the shift”, which produced a left miss when he swung hard.

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“My driving kind of got worse from pretty much after Harbour Town, and we were going back and forth,” he said. “We were just very confused swing-wise, did all sorts. Turns out, take the weight out of the top of the driver, and I think since Phoenix is when I’ve taken it out, I’ve driven it a lot better.”

When he had it removed, everything seemed to make sense to him again; he could swing as hard as he wanted, and the ball wouldn’t drift left. But a mystery remained… if he won twice with the faulty driver, doesn’t that mean it was OK, at least for a while?

“I wouldn’t say OK,” Fitzpatrick said. “Maybe I’d have won four times if I had it out.”

It’s a shocking oversight for someone as scrupulous as Fitzpatrick and proves that strange mistakes happen even to the best of professionals. And it all led to an obvious question: did anyone get fired?

“Absolutely not, no,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s just as much my fault as everyone else, so no chance.”