July 17, 2023 | 19:21
HOYLAKE, England – Matthew Fitzpatrick was playing a leisurely round at Manasquan River Country Club in Brielle, NJ, earlier this month and he couldn’t concentrate on a single shot.
All the 28-year-old from England could think about while playing with his girlfriend, Katherine Gaal, a native of Bay Head, NJ, and a member of Manasquan, was what his younger brother, Alex, was doing across the Atlantic.
The 2022 US Open champion, who was the low amateur at the British Open 10 years ago, couldn’t take his eyes off his mobile phone as he checked the score at the British Open qualifier at Lancashire Golf Club in England.
Alex, four years younger than Matthew, was trying to qualify for this week’s Open at Royal Liverpool.
“I was buzzing,” Matthew recalled Monday. “I was playing golf and I was just constantly updating the scores. It took a while to update. My girlfriend was literally like, ‘Put it down. It’ll load in a minute.’ I was just constantly refreshing and texting my mom, [asking], ‘What is he doing, where is he hitting it?’ ”
Alex Fitzpatrick, who turned pro earlier this year and plays on the Challenge Tour (the DP World Tour’s feeder tour), hit enough good shots to qualify for the Open.
In that qualifier, Alex Fitzpatrick beat former major champions and European Ryder Cup heroes Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell for a spot in the field this week.
He delivered a hole-out from his knees out of a bunker in the qualifier that went viral on social media.
“It’s great if you would have said to me 10 years ago when I was playing at Muirfield [as an amateur], ‘You’d play the Open in 2023, you’d win a major and your brother would play in one,’ I think we’d both be like, ‘What?’ ” Matthew said. “He was only 14 10 years ago. It’s kind of a lot to take in, really.”
This spring, the two brothers played together in the PGA Tour’s team event, the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, where they finished tied for 19th.
This will be quite different.
Matthew has given Alex similar advice that others gave him when he first started playing major championships.
“I think my biggest thing is he came last week to play 18, which I think was helpful, see the golf course, no stress, no rush,” Matthew said. “I just told him to take it easy the next few days, nine holes every day. I remember talking to my coach about what to do at my first Open back in 2013 and that’s what he stressed – don’t tire yourself out.”
Matthew said he’s still dealing with the pinch-yourself moment of having his younger brother, who caddied for him at age 14 when he won the 2013 US Amateur, playing in the same major championship with him.
“That’s my little brother,” he said. “I almost wanted to give Francesco and Edoardo [Molinari] a call and ask them how it is, how is the dynamic between you? Is it strange?
“People ask, ‘What would you do if you were in the last group on Sunday? ‘And I said, ‘Well, that would be one of my worst nightmares, to be honest.’ ”
Matthew remembered feeling bad for Alex over the years because of all the attention on him as he continued to rack up results on the golf course.
“I remember however many years I came on Tour, when Alex was still at my golf club, Hallamshire, and the members would come up to him all the time: ‘How’s Matt? Where’s Matt?’ Not, ‘How are you? How’s your game?’ ” said Matthew. “It was just always asking about me. I totally understand how it feels now because it’s the other way around. Literally, the majority of the questions are, ‘How is Alex?’
“I understand what it’s like, and I’m sure it was probably very annoying for him when he was growing up. It’s hard for him to have his own identity and have his own game. People kind of put him into, ‘Oh, he’s going to be like his brother’ and stuff like that, when we’re actually opposites.”
When asked if the Open would allow him to step out of his brother’s shadow, Alex recently said: “Probably not, but I’m okay with that to be honest. He can’t help but be the US Open champion [and] I would never wish he wasn’t. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Alex then admitted: “It’s a very difficult subject. It’s something I’ve dealt with since I was young. I’m not going to sugar coat it. At times it’s quite tough. You have tweets that are sent to you with random messages like “You’re not as good as your brother.”
“I love my brother to death and of course he’s a great golfer and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but people expect you to do a lot of things and I think sometimes it’s hard to live up to it. But you make your own way, and I’m on my way to doing that.”