As he is ranked the 30th best golfer in the world, one might suppose that America would be well versed in Matt Fitzpatrick, especially as the 22-year-old finished seventh in the Masters last year and played in September’s Ryder Cup.
Except the PGA Tour does not work like that. If you have not made it there, you have not made it anywhere, as far as it is concerned, and there was surprise expressed at his youthful looks and his mature talent as he loomed into contention at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Orlando. “He looks like he’s 12,” Harold Varner said, after playing alongside Fitzpatrick for the first two days. “But he plays like a grown man.”
It was a quip that could be construed as unnecessary, but Fitzpatrick says he does not mind. “I think it’s quite funny. I would rather think, ‘he only looks 15’, rather than people think, ‘oh, he’s going to win every week’. I can’t imagine the sort of pressure Rory [McIlroy] and Jason Day have.”
Even the Europeans who have known him for a few years struggle with the appearance-versus-reality conundrum. “I think the image doesn’t help him gain the respect that he deserves,” Graeme McDowell said. “I’ve played with him a few times and I probably can’t get my head around how good he is, because he continues to post good numbers on big, tough golf courses.”
The PGA Tour and its fans will soon be fully aware of Fitzpatrick, if the Yorkshireman himself has anything to do with it. It is his mission to win enough money on invites this season to earn his card for next year. If that goes to plan, he will relocate.
He remains on course to add to his bank balance this week although yeserday he struggled for consistency, as he dropped shots on the first, third and eighth holes, with two birdies seeing him through the back nine at 37.
That put him on eight under, three off the lead, alongside another Englishman Tyrrell Hatton. Just behind them is Rory McIlroy who hit a third-round 65 to race up the leader board.
Although Fitzpatrick intends to retain his playing privileges on the European Tour, his girlfriend attends Northwestern, the Chicago university from which he dropped out after just one term three years ago. However, he adores the country as he recently told The Sunday Telegraph.
“A lot of the European lads have gone over and tried it and not liked the US,” Fitzpatrick said. “The thing is, I love it in America. I’d back myself against anyone, but there’s no doubt that the standard they play in, week in week out on the PGA Tour, is better than I do.”
Californian Charley Hoffman found his putting touch to surf into the halfway lead. Hoffman carded a six-under 66 to head an international leaderboard after the second round at Bay Hill, one stroke ahead of Argentine Emiliano Grillo and two in front of Fitzpatrick.