At the start of the week, we said the 122nd US Open could be one to remember; it certainly did not disappoint.
As the United States’ national championship returned to Brookline for a fourth time this week, the 2022 edition will go down as not only one of the best in US Open history, but one of the best majors period.
With the Country Club playing a perfect balance of menace, opportunity and intrigue as the wind and firm conditions led to a true major test, it was no surprise to see director of grounds David Johnson awarded the Marshall Platter on Sunday evening after a weekend of high drama in the Bay State.
As compelling as Saturday’s third round was, the 18-hole finale was epic as it was Matt Fitzpatrick who at a slight 5′ 10 stood tall on the 18th green with the trophy in hand, still in disbelief of what he had achieved.
A tournament with more thrills, twists and turns than a trip to the nearby Six Flags on Boston’s Overview, this year’s US Open was not only a true classic in the storied annuls of the game, it also uncovered its latest gem in the form of one unassuming Englishman.
Sheffield steel comes full circle in Boston
As Fitzpatrick hoisted aloft the US Open trophy under grey skies in Massachusetts, the 27-year-old’s journey from US Amateur winner nine years ago on the very same course had completed its evolution.
Fitzpatrick’s win, like many others before see the records pile up.
The Sheffield native becomes only the fifth player from England to win the trophy since World War I, whilst he joins a truly elite club of male players to win both the US Amateur and US Open on the same course. That club’s personnel totals two; the other person permitted entry being the man the winner’s medal is named after. The Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus.
Having claimed victory at the Country Club in 2013, it was a full two years until Fitzpatrick took his debut European Tour win in the British Masters at Woburn as four more wins up to September 2018 followed.
Winning the DP World Tour Championship for a second time at the end of a chaotic 2020 pandemic season, the Andalusia Masters then came his way last October. Still however, he could not get over the line in the US.
But the signs were there and after a major-best T5 at Southern Hills, his rise is now complete.
Fitzpatrick’s win was one of true Yorkshire grit; Sheffield steel. Indeed, when having dropped two shots at 10 and 11 on Sunday’s back nine, the strongest of wills then saw a gargantuan putt holed from the edge of the green at 13, as chasing field looked to pounce. The Briton however, was not bowing to pressure with the experience of victory in 2013 a very real ally.
Victory was not without a dash of grace though. A fortunate bounce was his at 15 in finding the rough but as Fitzpatrick reached the green and holed out from 12 feet to move to -6, his playing partner had found the fairway but dropped a crucial stroke.
It was on the final hole however, where the steel was on full show. Finding the bunker after a wayward drive down 18, Fitzpatrick played a shot of immense character and above all bravery to flop onto the green. It will be a shot that lives in infamy.
Fitzpatrick’s win is a hugely popular one. A student of the game, the player who documents every shot he plays to make his game that much better has finally come of age. Whilst there remained those nagging doubts without even a win on the PGA Tour, Fitzpatrick wiped those concerns out in one fell swoop.
There could be much more to come.
Zalatoris again the bridesmaid
For Will Zalatoris, again coming so close will be another tough pill to swallow. Yet, the Texan can take solace in the fact there are few players around better right now such is his unwavering all-round qualities.
Indeed, Zalatoris is the very model of consistency. In back-to-back majors, the 25-year-old has been runner-up and if we look a little further back to January, it is now three Tour second-placed finishes in 2022. But that will be no crumb of comfort right now.
Mindful he had sunk a similar length putt at Southern Hills to force a playoff last month, Zalatoris stood over his putt on the 18th green knowing there would not only be a new name on the PGA Tour winner’s role call but the major honours list also. As his effort slipped inches past the cup and the putter was released from his crestfallen grip, sadly for him it was to be Fitzpatrick.
Could that be a promising omen for St. Andrews? It is truly hard to tell how he might adapt to Links golf on his Open bow next month in Fife but in its anniversary 150th edition, Zalatoris will not lack motivation at the Old Course.
An emphatic LIV riposte
At the beginning of the week, the chat was inevitably dominated by LIVGolf but by the end of it the golf world and indeed the USGA had wrenched back the narrative.
Whilst more names join the Saudi-backed golf series by the day, the financial assets of Greg Norman‘s game changer are not going away anytime soon but simply put, LIV could not and will not be able to hold a candle to the theatre of this weekend.
The ethos of LIV is to improve the game and appeal to a wider audience of what is still considered an often pedestrian sport. Whilst it may still do that, it did feel like the Brookline message to their rival was: “Try beating that”.
In a town famous for its Tea Party and as the scene of the American Revolution, this weekend in Boston, it was quite appropriate that the USGA but more importantly the world, were once more fierce in rebuttal of the new order.
There were large parts of the weekend where it looked like being Scottie Scheffler‘s major for a second time this year. However, unlike at Augusta the treacherous slopes and unforgiving rough around the greens were the New Jersey man’s undoing.
Hovering around the top five, Scheffler’s spectacular 3 at the 8th on Saturday fully propelled him toward the top of a congested leaderboard but in truth, there were more downs than ups and his T2 finish with Zalatoris is a little flattering.
Perhaps though, that only serves to demonstrate just how good Scheffler is and likely will be at the Open.
Like Scheffler, Rory McIlroy was also front and centre but as well as the Northern Irishman putted this week, his burst was – ironically – too early to maintain over the trials of the last 36 holes.
The improvements in his game under Brad Faxon are there for all to see, but until he does end his barren spell without a major that is all it will be. With that said however, with the Open now very much on the horizon is McIlroy set to time his trip back home to perfection?
Denny McCarthy enjoyed a hugely successful week in Brookline and but for a bogey at the last on Sunday, the winner of six amateur titles and one of the best putters an the PGA Tour would have finished T5. Though no relative spring chicken, it will be interesting to see where McCarthy goes from here.
It was not a tournament of glory for LIV members however, as Phil Mickelson laboured particularly badly in missing the cut by a full eight shots on +11. Sergio Garcia, meanwhile, missed the weekend by a single stroke, with Louis Oosthuizen and Kevin Na also failing to make the weekend.
Of the players that did complete 72 holes, Patrick Reed finished 16 shots off the summit, whilst Dustin Johnson provided the best effort but still could only muster a T24 finish on +4.
Spare a thought also for Sweden’s David Lingmerth and the almost unknown Englishman Callum Tarren who shared the lead after the opening round but rather predictably slipped away from contention. Both finished a creditable T49 and 31 respectively.
Our final sympathy is left for Grayson Murray who carded an 80 on Sunday. A whacking 10 shots over par will hurt for the American in his home championship; his iron however, may be stinging more after the treatment it received from being thrown on multiple occasions following Brookline’s refusal to provide respite.
Murray can probably rest easy though in the knowledge that on this particular weekend in Boston, he was not the only man to suffer the perils of Brookline.
The 150th Open Championship begins July 14th on the Old Course at St. Andrews.
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