US PGA: Matt Fitzpatrick relishing challenge of 'brute' Oak Hill

Reigning US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick is relishing the ‘proper test’ of ‘brute’ Oak Hill ahead of the PGA Championship… but the Englishman faces the challenge of keeping pace with Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler

  • Fitzpatrick is ranked as the World’s No. 7 and the highest ranked Englishman
  • Other English prospects competing will be Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton
  • provides all the latest international sports news 

History won’t be on Matt Fitzpatrick’s side when the season’s second major gets underway on Thursday, but the surroundings might just offer a better omen than his nationality.

If we are to pick a pair of recurring themes from the life and times of the US PGA Championship, it is that a brutally hard course will be provided and it won’t be an Englishman who best tames it.

The latter is supported rather ominously by the 104 years that have passed since ‘Long Jim’ Barnes won his second title in 1919 and the former has been demonstrated, with a similar sense of foreboding, by the procession of elite golfers who have spoken with some trepidation about the beastly challenges of Oak Hill Country Club.

Fitzpatrick’s contribution on the eve of competition was to describe it as a ‘brute’, with the telling caveat that he wouldn’t want it any other way. It might be a case of being careful with one’s wishes, but you don’t win a US Open at Brookline if you’re a flat-track bully.

That win last year has fortified Fitzpatrick’s confidence, which places him at the forefront of a cluster of solid English prospects here alongside Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton. Each of them has the game, or more precisely the tee-to-green accuracy, to minimise the many tests of the East Course and its devilishly dense rough.

Matt Fitzpatrick will go on a quest to be the first Englishman to win the US PGA since 1919 

It was 104 years ago that ‘Long Jim’ Barnes won his second PGA Championship title in 1919

Of course, theory is a fine thing and pulling it off is quite something else. But unlike the subdued and wounded Rory McIlroy, who usually casts a big shadow over golfers from these isles, Fitzpatrick is arriving at considerable speed, having won on the PGA Tour as recently as last month. That the world No 7 has a proven calibre on fiendish courses, and more pertinently an appetite for it, would seem to stand him in good stead.

As ever, his caddie Billy Foster has been playing up that fact, saying: ‘The tougher the course, the more he excels’. For his part, Fitzpatrick joked that Foster ‘talks a lot’, but did not dispute his sentiment. Far from it.

‘I think I’m probably more comfortable,’ he said. ‘It’s just a brute of a golf course. It reminds me a lot of Winged Foot because you miss the fairways there, you just have to chip out. There’s so many tough, tough golf holes where you have to hit just good shots.

‘I think that’s the great thing about it – it’s a proper test. You’ve got to play good golf. Whoever does win this week, in my opinion, will thoroughly deserve it. I’ve said it multiple times that I hate it when tournaments are 25 or 30-under par to win.

‘I don’t particularly feel like I play well in those. I just like it when it’s hard, and you’ve got to battle, and the par is a good score. I just enjoy it, for whatever reason.’

Fitzpatrick will have to beat Scottie Scheffler, one of golf’s two most in-form players right now

World No. 1 John Rahm is also on a hot streak this season and is the favorite to win at Oaks Hills

There’s a spring in Fitzpatrick’s step this week. This tournament served as a superb springboard for him last year, when his fifth-placed finish from the final grouping supplied the nous he needed for his remarkable victory at Brookline.

‘It gave me confidence that I can do it,’ he said of his US Open win. ‘That’s kind of a big thing – I feel like if I can do that (play well under pressure), I know I can contend and win.’

The challenge for anyone here will not just be the course, but also in keeping pace with Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler, who stand as the game’s two best players, particularly in light of McIlroy’s recent difficulties. To have any chance, the Northern Irishman will certainly need to tame the two-way miss he showed at Quail Hollow earlier this month, because a repeat at Oak Hill, where the wind will also be a factor, would be destructive. He has taken tips from the absent Tiger Woods, but his downbeat mood has offered little encouragement.

The same cannot be said of the LIV contingent. Dustin Johnson is buoyant after his win in Tulsa at the weekend and Brooks Koepka is bullish, having admitted he ‘choked’ on Masters Sunday at Augusta. ‘I didn’t sleep that night,’ he said. ‘If you have a lead and cough it up, that’s choking.

‘Just never let it happen again’

His success to that end will be one of a number of intriguing subplots this week.

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