ROME — Let’s get right to it. The point that is.
Matt Fitzpatrick arrived at this Ryder Cup as a veteran of two previous biennial encounters between the best from the United States and Europe. And, much to his obvious annoyance, the former U.S. Open champion came armed with a 0-5-0 record. He had, however, identified at least part of what was causing his issues.
“The big thing is to not try too hard,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “You can be on the range trying to perfect your swing and trying to make sure you’re hitting all the shots that you want to hit. It’s easy to say, ‘don’t try too hard,’ but not doing that is another thing.”
Problem over now. And it only took one fourball match to set things right. After sitting out the morning foursomes, Fitzpatrick appeared for the first time in his third Ryder Cup in the second series of games.
Simultaneously making a point, scoring a point and getting his point across, Fitzpatrick played the first six holes at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in a remarkable six under par. Almost single-handedly he saw off the goggle-eyed pair of Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele in a four-ball that might as well have been a three-ball. Well, almost. To be fair to Fitzpatrick’s partner, Rory McIlroy, the World No. 2 did contribute three key birdies to the pair’s 5-and-3 skewering of the two-time major champion and the current Olympic gold medalist. But for long enough this was basically an afternoon off for the Northern Irishman.
So, Fitzpatrick was, by a distance, the star turn in this particular show, the highest man on the podium, his name above the title. And certainly the fastest starter in this 18-hole sprint. An opening par gave no hint of what was soon to follow. But that was the Englishman’s only “lapse” before McIlroy’s deuce at the par-3 seventh took the Anglo-Irish couple to a 6-up lead over understandably bewildered opponents.
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Otherwise, it went like this. Between the second tee and the seventh green on which McIlroy briefly abandoned his watching, Fitzpatrick quite simply went berserk, holing putts from all over the place to all but immediately put an end to any thoughts Morikawa and Schauffele had of recording the U.S. team’s first point of this 44th Ryder Cup. Specifically, Fitzpatrick’s run was birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie, winning all five holes in the process.
“For the first nine holes I was just trying to hang onto this guy’s coat tails,” admitted McIlroy at the conclusion of the match. “Walking up 10 I told Matt at least I had contributed twice. Then the boys made a few birdies. So we did have to hang on a bit, but I’m proud of him and proud of how he played.”
Fitzpatrick was even more effusive. No surprise there, given the circumstances.
“For me, it’s very, very special, and to play with this man, and to get out to the start that we did, just phenomenal,” he said. “This is one of the greatest days I’ve ever had on the golf course. Very special. The minute I knew I was partnered with this man I was just so excited to be out here. And to get off to the start we did, I couldn’t be happier. It is very different to be playing at home as opposed to away, with the fans cheering us on.”
Still, not everything went perfectly to plan for the European duo. There was a mini-rally of sorts from the Americans, who claimed the 11th and 12th holes with consecutive birdies of their own. But it was a false dawn, one almost inevitably doomed to failure. Although had Schauffele converted from short range on the 14th green things might have got a little interesting.
But he missed.
In the end, the long-established deficit incurred by the Americans was just too large to offer anything more than mild encouragement to the pursuers. Even if the relatively becalmed Europeans did seem to suffer an understandable lapse in concentration, their birdie/eagle-festooned advantage always looked too great to overcome.
And that, ultimately, was the point. Matt Fitzpatrick’s first, but surely not his last.
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This article was originally published on golfdigest.com