Matthew Fitzpatrick had just witnessed Bryson DeChambeau bully a bully in the fall of 2020, and his emotional reaction was equal parts frustration and intrigue.
DeChambeau had just punched mighty Winged Foot in the mouth en route to winning the 2020 U.S. Open, playing the brute West Course layout with its length and gnarly rough as if he were waltzing around a 5,500-yard executive course.
“It’s not a skill to hit the ball a long way, in my opinion,’’ Fitzpatrick said back then, referring to DeChambeau’s deconstruction of golf courses like Winged Foot. “He’s just taking the skill out of it, in my opinion. It’s just daft. It just makes a bit of a mockery of the game.”
Fitzpatrick’s intent wasn’t to diminish DeChambeau’s accomplishments or the work he did to bulk himself up and increase his swing and ball speed. Fitzpatrick’s words came more out of frustration, because he’d never been one of the longer hitters in the game and there was a fear of the game on big golf courses like Winged Foot not giving him a fair fighting chance.
“I could put on 40 pounds,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “I could go and see a bio-mechanist and gain 40 yards. I could put another 2 inches on my driver. I could gain that, but the skill in my opinion is to hit the ball straight. That’s the skill. I’m biased because I’m not quite the longest.”
Instead of complaining, whining and taking a woe-is-me approach about the big bombers, Fitzpatrick did something about it. Though his 5-foot-10, 155-pound frame belies it, Fitzpatrick went ahead and became one.
His newfound strength and length was evident all around The Country Club this past week as he captured a U.S. Open of his own after Sunday’s final round in Brookline, Mass., where he averaged 300 yards off the tee, which ranked 36th in the field, and hit 79 percent of the fairways, which ranked second.
By comparison, DeChambeau led the field in driving distance at 322 yards, but hit only 41 percent of the fairways, ranking 61st in the field. Not coincidentally, DeChambeau, at 13-over par, finished 19 shots adrift of Fitzpatrick.
“I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but I feel like he’s made some extreme improvements off the tee in a matter of months,” Scottie Scheffler said Sunday after finishing one shot behind Fitzpatrick. “I played with him in Austin this year and he was not hitting it nearly as far as he is now. I don’t know what he’s doing. Maybe he’s on the Bryson program or something.’’
When Scheffler’s comments were relayed to Fitzpatrick, the 27-year-old Englishman joked, “I’ve just been drug tested and it came back negative.’’
Fitzpatrick, who was the 20th-ranked player in the world in 2020, ranked 127th on the PGA Tour in driving distance in the 2020-21 season. He’s currently ranked 63rd in driving distance. And, after Sunday’s victory, his world ranking elevated to No. 10.
After Fitzpatrick’s comments about DeChambeau and his physical transformation, he went to see Dr. Sasho McKenzie, a biomechanical expert from Nova Scotia who pioneered something called the Stack System to gain more power through higher swing speed and ball speed.
“I’ll be honest, it’s worked wonders,” Fitzpatrick said. “Maybe three years ago, if I was in this position and I was playing with Will [Zalatoris] in the final group, I’d be concerned I was going to be 15 or 20 [yards] behind him all day. I felt comfortable knowing I was going to be past him, which obviously gave me confidence going into the next shot. When you’re hitting it past people, it’s obviously quite nice.”
Fitzpatrick this past week at Brookline was reaching the par-5 eighth hole in two and he birdied it all four days. He, too, was able to drive the short, 300-yard par-4 fifth hole and he birdied that hole all four days.
His newfound length, coupled with the confidence that came with capturing his first career major championship has become intoxicating to Fitzpatrick, who now has a more realistic dream of matching his countryman Nick Faldo for the most major championships won by a European at six.
St. Andrews for the British Open is up next in a few weeks.
“I love playing St Andrews,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a great golf course. It’s going to be interesting, obviously, with the length and everything. Now [that] I’m a bomber, I’ll probably be driving most of the greens.’’