Time will tell for Matt Fitzpatrick
BROOKLINE, Mass. -- On Sunday afternoon, PGA Tour golfer James Driscoll was in the gallery as Matt Fitzpatrick took control of his 36-hole match against Oliver Goss in the U.S. Amateur finals, winning 4 and 3 at the Country Club.
Now in his eighth full season on tour, the 35-year-old Brookline, Mass., native, who played high school golf matches at the Country Club, was back in town for a few days after missing the cut at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C.
On Monday, Driscoll will head to New Jersey for the Barclays, but for now, he was a very interested spectator, dressed casually in a T-shirt, shorts and unlaced sneakers.
Driscoll knew better than most on the grounds what these two young men were going through and what loomed ahead for them after the matches ended.
He played in five U.S. Amateurs, including the 2000 finals at Baltusrol, where he lost in 37 holes to Jeff Quinney. That runner-up showing earned him an invitation to the 2001 Masters Tournament, in which he missed the cut, but not before shooting a 68 in the first round.
"Getting into the Masters was a huge deal for me," said Driscoll, who was an All-American at Virginia.
After Driscoll beat him by 10 shots in the first round at Augusta, Tom Watson said, "That was the best round with an amateur that I've ever played here."
But Driscoll hasn't been back in the field at Augusta since that whirlwind week 12 years ago. This reality must deepen his appreciation for amateur golf and the opportunities that it gave him.
As talented as Fitzpatrick might be as a ball-striker and short-game magician, he faces a very uncertain future in the game.
In 2014, the 18-year-old Englishman will play in the Masters, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship and likely several other tour events through sponsor's exemptions. It will be the best and most demanding year of his life. But it could also be the only time he plays in these events, especially the Masters, which has the smallest field of the four majors.
After Colt Knost won the 2007 U.S. Amateur at the Olympic Club, most people thought he would retain his amateur status through the following year so that he could receive the invitations to the major championships. But he turned pro instead to jump-start his chances of getting a PGA Tour card.
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Six years later, Knost still hasn't earned his way into a Masters.
For most players of Knost's generation, amateur golf represented a passageway to a lucrative professional career. It's a checkpoint, not a destination.
Fitzpatrick can pursue that pro dream, but for now, he should enjoy the splendor of winning the U.S. Amateur and for being an amateur.
Being at the historic Country Club this week summoned a time when great players were career amateurs. Past champions at the club have personified what it means to be committed amateurs.
One hundred years ago, Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Open here as a 20-year-old amateur. And the next year, he won the first of two U.S. Amateur titles at the Ekwanok Country Club in Manchester, Vt. With the exception of Bobby Jones, few players ever exemplified the virtues of the gentleman amateur better than Ouimet, who was steadfast about playing simply for the love of competition.
Jay Sigel, who won the 1982 Amateur at the Country Club, didn't turn pro until he was 50. For years, he worked in the insurance business before winning eight times on the Champions Tour.
On Sunday, the USGA completed its 10-man Walker Cup team by selecting the last five players. Two of those additions are mid-amateurs, Nathan Smith and Todd White. A part of the USGA's explanation for having them on the squad is to celebrate career amateurs.
Fitzpatrick might not make it out of his teens before he turns pro, but if this experience at Brookline goes down as the best golf week of his life, it's not a bad thing.
Winning the U.S. Amateur doesn't have to signify greatness as a professional. In a few weeks, Fitzpatrick will begin his freshman year at Northwestern. He wants to earn a degree as a fallback in case golf doesn't work out. There will be the allure to turn pro with the promise of tournament sponsor's exemptions and equipment and clothing apparel deals.
The boy from Sheffield, England has much to consider on the flight back across the Atlantic. In a few years, he will certainly be a professional, and whatever he does then will be judged on the potential he showed on a Sunday afternoon at the Country Club.
But for now, he is the prize of amateur golf. And if he never does another extraordinary thing in the sport, he gets to play in the Masters. It could be his only chance. Just ask James Driscoll.