U.S. Open: Don’t forget about Matt Fitzpatrick

Matthew Fitzpatrick. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports /

In the speculations, predictions, and prognostications about the 117th U.S. Open, Matt Fitzpatrick may be the biggest sleeper in the field.

The 117th U.S. Open is on every golf fan’s mind right now and the pressing question that seems to preoccupy all of us is this: Who will challenge Dustin Johnson?

The various power rankings, the sleeper picks, and the betting odds are all directed toward identifying the most likely players among a diverse and eclectic field to challenge the long, lean world no. 1 golfer’s position as U.S. Open defending champion.

The  Northern Irishman’s fans have their hopes pinned on Rory McIlroy and if he’s healthy, which he says is the case, he could do it with that audacious, aggressive, pin-point accurate ball striking that characterizes his game when he’s at the top of his form.

Jordan Spieth fans are still remembering Chambers Bay and 2015, the Year of Spieth. But is Jordan Spieth a realistic pick to challenge DJ this year? Does he have enough fire power in his bag to conquer the Erin Hills monstrosity and Dustin Johnson? Look deep and be honest, Spieth fans. He doesn’t have the right stuff this year.

It could be one of the game’s good guys – Steve Stricker has the game to send Wisconsin fans into a frenzy – and Ricky Fowler, who currently leads the TOUR in SG: Total, seems to be trending in the right direction to notch his first major. Beef Johnston looks like a dark horse but the man is an absolute animal on the golf course and Erin Hills is a beast that’s more likely to be subdued by power than finesse.

And then there is Matt Fitzpartick, who will be making his third U.S. Open start at Erin Hills, and who seems to be below everybody’s radar. Maybe you remember him. Fitzpatrick is the guy who made the cut and collected low amateur honors at the 2013 Open Championship, who won the U.S. Amateur, and rocketed to the top of the WAGR in 2013. Even as an 18-year old, Matt Fitzpatrick had both game and guts.

More from US Open

Fitzpatrick was (briefly) playing collegiate golf for the Northwestern Wildcats – more an intellectual hotbed than an incubator for pro golfers – but the big stage called to him like one of Odysseus’ Sirens and he couldn’t resist. The nineteen year old from Sheffield, England packed up his sticks and left Chicago in his rearview mirror, heading for the European Tour.

Fitzpatrick’s first pro victory came in 2015 at the European Masters and two more have followed. He played for the Europeans at the 2016 Ryder Cup and he won the DP World Tour Championship last November in Dubai. His best finish in a major came at the 2016 Masters when he finished T7. In other words, 2016 was a very good season for Fitzpatrick.

Has his game matured to the point that he’ll contend at Erin Hills? He’s finished inside the top 20 in five of his last six starts at European Tour events, and his most recent finish at the Nordea Masters was as runner-up. He’s played 3 PGA TOUR events this year, most recently at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and consistently finished inside the top 20 at all three. Is he warmed up enough to convert to a top 10 finisher in Wisconsin?

Next: U.S. Open sleepers

Fitzpatrick’s forté comes with his flatstick. He is a fearless virtuoso when it comes to putting. If he can survive the long haul of the Erin Hills fairways and avoid the disasters that are waiting in the fescue, Matt Fitzpatrick is very likely to emerge as a significant force at the 117th U.S. Open.