Matt Fitzpatrick comes full circle in RBC Heritage triumph
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA - APRIL 16: Matt Fitzpatrick of England celebrates with the trophy in the Heritage Plaid tartan jacket after winning in a playoff during the final round of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links on April 16, 2023 in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Grew up vacationing on Hilton Head, now a part of island lore with playoff win over Jordan Spieth
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – His nonchalance and stellar demeanor are owed to a commitment to his craft that is to be admired and can be confirmed with a resume that has few peers.
As a caddie who has won tournaments with the likes of Gordon Brand Jr., Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Thomas Bjorn and Sergio Garcia, Billy Foster stands tall and has been in the heat of the battle countless times. He has watched the best in golf’s grandest theaters and has learned to keep things simple and concise when the pressure-meter is turned highest.
So when he saw the shot that his man, Matt Fitzpatrick, had in the 18th fairway of the third playoff hole in Sunday’s RBC Heritage, Foster didn’t hesitate. From one Englishman to another, Foster told Fitzpatrick: “Same shot.”
The message was an easy one to convey. Fitzpatrick had hit a 180-yard 9-iron on the first playoff hole, also the 18th, and it had left him a birdie roll from about 25 feet behind the flagstick. This time, they had 186 and the “same shot” was delivered flawlessly, Fitzpatrick’s approach landing at the front of the green and releasing crisply until it came to rest within 2 feet.
Matt Fitzpatrick wins in a playoff at RBC Heritage
There was still work to be done, as with Jordan Spieth, “there’s always a chance,” laughed Foster, only the American rolled his 33-foot birdie putt strong and it was left for Fitzpatrick to tap in to win this most impressive “home game.”
Yes, that’s right. It’s a home game for the kid from Sheffield, England.
“I think I can retire now,” laughed Fitzpatrick after beating Spieth on the third playoff hole at the RBC Heritage. “This is the one that I’ve always wanted to win. (Besides the majors) there isn’t a higher one on my list and that’s the truth.”
Matt Fitzpatrick’s news conference after winning RBC Heritage
By now, the legend of the Fitzpatrick family’s love affair with Hilton Head Island is well chronicled. Russell and Sue came here on holiday from England in 2000 when their sons Matt and Alex were 6 and 2, respectively. They loved it so much they made the trip across the pond countless more times to enjoy the South Carolina Lowcountry, and no part of the trip meant more to young Matt than chances to play Harbour Town Golf Links.
“This place is just a special place for me,” he said, “and it means the world to have won it.”
To win it, Fitzpatrick had to be play tenaciously, which might not seem to fit when you study him. Fitzpatrick looks as young as he did in 2013 when he mowed through the field at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts to win the U.S. Amateur. He wears braces these days. To some, he'd be mistaken for the collegiate student which he was for a brief time at Northwestern eight years ago.
But Foster, who joined on with Fitzpatrick in 2019, will quickly tell you not to judge him by his looks “because the kid has guts.” That was evident last summer when Fitzpatrick – again at The Country Club, no less – hit a world-class 9-iron out of a fairway bunker on the 72nd hole and held off Scottie Scheffler with a gut-check of a par.
Yet at the same time, Foster really wanted this one because he needed to see something positive in a playoff. Their partnership had been 0-3 in playoffs – losses in the BMW International Open, Scottish Open and Italian Open. “We needed this one,” he said.
A playoff seemed a longshot when Spieth stuffed his approach at the par-4 13th and went to 17-under, leading by two. But Fitzpatrick picked up a shot at the par-3 14th with a par then birdied the 16th to pull even.
Matt Fitzpatrick’s Round 4 winning highlights from RBC Heritage
That he stayed tied with Spieth as they played 17 and 18 in regulation, then 18 and 17 in the first two playoff holes, can be credited with the quirkiness of golf. Even Foster, who has been doing this for more than four decades, was impressed.
“It was a great finish, so many great shots,” he said.
As much he cherishes visits to Harbour Town, Fitzpatrick concedes that the course hasn’t always loved him back. “I’ve missed the cut a few times and I’ve finished middle of the pack a couple of times,” said Fitzpatrick.
But, yes, this truly makes up for those less-than-stellar performances and it is one sweet way to roll into this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which is a team event. Matt’s partner? None other than younger brother Alex, a Wake Forest graduate who is working his way along the pro golf trail by playing the Challenge Tour in Europe.
Hardly a glamorous road, playing the Challenge Tour, but Alex Fitzpatrick is also being assisted by a veteran caddie – Phil “Wobbly” Morbey – and he recently finished T9 in something called The Challenge Presented by KGA in Bangalore, India.
Toss it all together – the top-10 in India, the win here, the brothers in ‘Nawlins – and Matt Fitzpatrick breaks into a wide smile.
“I’m even more exited to go now,” said the young man who moved to No. 8 in the Official World Golf Ranking with his second PGA TOUR win. “That was one of my thoughts going into today, just enjoy (the day). It was a great challenge, a great opportunity to go out and try to win and fortunately, I managed to do that.
“Now, I can really enjoy next week.”
If only Russell and Sue Fitzpatrick had made New Orleans a favorite holiday stop, too.