Fitzpatrick no stranger to the spotlight

South African Open Championship - Day ThreeIt’s not always a given that standout amateurs go on to be successful professionals. For one reason or another, careers can sometimes go awry, and in a sport such as golf, there are no guarantees.

Yet one man who appears to have already made the smoothest of transitions into the pro ranks is 20-year old Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, who, after gaining his European Tour card at the 2014 Qualifying School, finds himself in the final pairing on Sunday in the co-sanctioned South African Open at Ekurhuleni’s Glendower Golf Club.

Fitzpatrick countered an opening round of 73 with a 68 on day two. However, it was on Saturday that the surge through the field took place, as he blitzed four birdies and an eagle on the back nine to close out a 67 and secure a share of second place at eight-under par – five strokes adrift of leader Charl Schwartzel.

“I was pretty nervous coming down 18,” he admitted with a grin. “I was on a roll and playing pretty solid. All of a sudden my name was on the leaderboard at minus six. Then I made a couple more birdies and I’m minus eight, and not far off the lead. To go from minus two at the turn to minus eight was pretty special. I’m delighted with the way I played.”

It’s only his second event as a European Tour card holder, but, even at 20 years of age, the Sheffield-born star is no stranger to the big stage. In 2013, he got an invitation to the Open Championship at Muirfield, and promptly made the cut; finishing in a tie for 44th place. He then rounded off a dream summer by winning the US Amateur Championship. By the year end, he was the top-ranked amateur in the world.

In 2014, he never finished lower than 42nd in nine Challenge Tour starts. However, the highlight of the year in which he turned pro was arguably his performance at the US Open, where he again made the cut and finished in a tie for 48th.

“Everyone’s first aim is to keep their card, particularly in my first year,” Fitzpatrick pointed out. “But again, I’m not setting my sights on just making cuts to get my card. The main goal is to make the Race to Dubai Final, which I think is achievable and realistic. One event at a time, and give my best at each one.

“My parents try to keep me grounded. I’ve just got to keep doing my best and try my hardest,” he added.

A win at golf’s second-oldest national Open would go some way to ensuring an appearance at the DP World Tour Championship in November, although it would be some story were he to beat runaway-leader Schwartzel. Yet Fitzpatrick remained pragmatic about a potentially massive final round, and believes the key is to avoid the trap of getting ahead of himself.

“I think the cliché is one shot at a time, but I’ll be trying my best to do that and take each shot as it comes. If it works out then great, if it doesn’t then I will have given it my best,” he concluded.

 

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