England’s Matt Fitzpatrick mastering the method of cross-handed chipping
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Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62
Hilton Head Island a special place for Matthew Fitzpatrick
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 12, 2022, ahead of the RBC Heritage. Continuing his strong play, Matthew Fitzpatrick is T-1 at the 122nd U.S. Open at 4-under-par thanks in part to an epic chip-in in the First Round.
Matt Fitzpatrick will reach for his wedge after missing a green, rehearse a few practice swings and pause for the predictable murmurs, mumblings and crowd chirps that inevitably will start circulating across the gallery ropes. He and veteran caddie Billy Foster will look at one another and have a laugh. They have come to expect some true gems.
“I find it hilarious,” Fitzgerald said of the reaction he gets as he prepares to pitch or chip cross-handed. “I’ll hear in the crowd, ‘Oh, my God! What’s he doing?’ Really, it’s hilarious. But it’s worked really well for me. My chipping stats are 100 percent better from this year compared to last. It’s a good start.”
It's not as if Fitzpatrick, 27, a player with seven wins in Europe and ranked 23rd in the Official World Golf Ranking heading into this week’s RBC Heritage, was a terrible chipper when he utilized a conventional technique. He simply thought he could be better and save a few strokes. And he has. Fitzpatrick had used a cross-handed chipping drill for a number of years, and he always liked how his strike was so consistent when he did it. So why not put the technique into play during tournament rounds? He has been chipping predominantly cross-handed for a year or so, according to Foster.
“People think he probably has the yips or something,” said Foster, who caddied for World Golf Hall of Famer Seve Ballesteros, during the recent Florida Swing. “He doesn’t. He chips brilliantly.”
Foster said Fitzpatrick tended to “cut across” the ball just a bit when conventional (his path through the ball coming a fraction inside). Thus far in 2021-22, Fitzpatrick’s play around the greens has been a real asset. He missed 14 greens across his first three rounds at the Valspar Championship, and he got up-and-down 12 times, ranking as high as second in scrambling (he finished the week sixth). Fitzpatrick tied for third in scrambling at last week’s Masters.
Overall in 2021-22, he ranks 15th in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and third in scrambling, getting his ball up and down 68.93% of the time. Two years ago, by comparison, he ranked 138th in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and 99th in scrambling (58.79%).
Playing partners may do a double-take the first time they see Fitzpatrick go to work around the greens, but they should not underestimate him. In a group-play playoff against Scottie Scheffler at last month’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Fitzpatrick had an all-world chip to set up birdie on the fifth playoff hole, nestling a slick, downhill tester (with a tree closely behind him) to a foot. Scheffler won the playoff on the next hole, en route to winning the tournament, and is the hottest player in golf. Fitzpatrick has been on a pretty strong run of late, too.
With the exception of THE PLAYERS Championship – where Fitzpatrick was on the wrong side of the draw in terrible conditions and shot a pair of hard-earned 74s – his other five stroke-play starts in 2022 have all resulted in finishes of T14 or better. (He was T14 at last week’s Masters.) He tied for fifth at the Valspar Championship, tied for sixth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and tied for ninth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. Last fall on the DP World Tour, Fitzpatrick also won the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters and was runner-up at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
He enjoys the challenge of Harbour Town Golf Links, where the greens are very small and short game can prove pivotal to contending. A year ago, Fitzpatrick tied for fourth at the RBC Heritage. Why has the quality of his short game risen with his unorthodox technique?
“I just found it more consistent,” Fitzpatrick said. “The ball comes off the face much more consistently. It’s the same every time. You know what’s coming. When I was chipping normally, it’s not like I had the yips. I was just getting a lot of inconsistency in the strike, and the release. I started doing it a couple of years ago in the rough, because I felt the technique really got the (club)head out.
“To me, I can’t drag my hands across, because I’ll shank it if I go cross-handed. It helps me throw the head in, and I feel I have way more control over it. ... I just got so comfortable with it, and now I really like doing it.”
Fitzpatrick still uses a conventional grip when he is in the bunkers. (“Bunkers are no problem,” he said.) He generally uses his cross-handed technique from 30 yards and in. On certain shots – say, a flop shot, or a shot where he needs to generate high spin, such as a pitch he faced to a front hole location from behind the left-side pond at Augusta National’s 11th hole last week – he’ll still use a conventional grip.
Fitzpatrick certainly isn’t the first player to chip cross-handed. TOUR winners Vijay Singh and Chris Couch have chipped and even hit bunker shots that way, and Korn Ferry Tour player Josh Broadaway played cross-handed from tee to green. Golf is a copycat sport. Could Fitzpatrick, given his new chipping prowess, start a new chipping trend with his cross-handed method?
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said, laughing. “I’m happy with my start to the year; I’ve been playing really well. I think the changes that I made in the offseason have been positive. I think it’s a matter of time before I string it all together and hopefully knock a few (victories) off.”