England's Matt Fitzpatrick held off Americans Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler to claim his first major at the 2022 U.S. Open, one of the most entertaining and satisfying major championships in recent memory. The 27-year-old has elevated his game in a big way in 2022, ranking in the top 25 in all major statistical categories going into the week at The Country Club, where he first made a name for himself in 2013 when he won the U.S. Amateur.
GolfPass Senior Writer Tim Gavrich and GolfPass Managing Editor Jason Deegan both watched the tournament throughout the weekend, and each came away with some advice for fellow golfers in the wake of Fitzpatrick's triumph.
Gavrich: Fitzpatrick's analog shot-tracking is admirable
Because the margins separating mediocrity from greatness are so thin at the top of competitive golf, superior players pursue any possible edge they can gain over the rest of the field in addition to their own hard work honing their skills. For Fitzpatrick, that comes in the form of tracking every single competitive shot he has hit since he was 15 years old. He makes notes not just on the nature and result of each shot, but also the lie and wind conditions. And he records the accuracy of his approach shots not relative to how far they end up from the flag, but how far they end up from his target (hint: pros take dead aim at flags far less often than you think).
This sounds obsessive, but the effect has been that Fitzpatrick has a powerful database of shots that have given him an intimate knowledge of his golf game - his strengths and miss tendencies alike. He can leverage that data to make smart decisions in tournaments. And in an event like the U.S. Open, where the difficulty of the setup means disaster often sits about three feet from safety, decision-making becomes more important than ever.
As he stood over his birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation Sunday to win the U.S. Open, Fitzpatrick was armed with experience. Having won the U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in 2013, he had confronted practically the exact same putt during the matches that he now found himself eyeing in the U.S. Open. Even though he didn't make the putt, he had a sense of confidence that no other player would have had, thanks to his unique style of preparation.
Do you need to be so detailed in your own pursuit of better golf? Perhaps not, but you can certainly adopt Fitzpatrick's general strategy of building self-awareness and using it to fuel your decision-making on the course. I don't track every shot, but since 2015 I have had a running Excel spreadsheet tallying my scores, fairways hit, greens-in-regulation, putts-per-round and birdie statistics. Using just these basic numbers, I have been able to focus on certain areas in practice so that when I do play in occasional tournaments, I can be more confident in my efforts to dissect a course.
I have recently added a digital level to my stat-keeping in the form of Arccos, which makes an app and sensors that seek to map out the shots you hit on the course. Through a month of use, I have been able to put some specific numbers to the parts of my game that have confirmed my suspicions about what I need to work on. If I want to reach the next level handicap-wise, I will need to improve my putting. Meanwhile, I can draw confidence from my iron play, which Arccos says is particularly strong for my skill level.
Finally, don't overlook the good old fashioned yardage book when you play. Being aware of the distance to reach or carry bunkers can inform your club selection off the tee and help you take a little bit of unnecessary stress out of certain shots.
At the most basic level, taking a little bit deeper of an interest in your own golf can pay dividends if you're looking to shoot lower scores.
Deegan: Flag-in putting worth trying
In or out?
The debate about where the flag stick should be while you're putting apparently ended when Golf Digest published its definitive scientific take in its May issue that the pin should be taken out 99 percent of the time. Tell that to Fitzpatrick, who won with it in on the majority of his putts.
Then try to explain all the data to my weekly foursome. We've adopted the pandemic way of putting - nobody touches the flag stick. Ever. Leaving it in takes the stress off of worrying when to pull it and where to set it. Everybody goes to their ball and gets about their business, on or just off the green. It generally speeds up play.
It was great to see Fitzpatrick rewarded for his contrarian take on putting. What works for the majority of golfers, isn't always good for everybody. I'm still a flag-stick-in guy despite the #science.
I haven't charted every putt like Fitzpatrick has over decades of play, but I've definitely noticed that I putt much more consistently with the flag stick in since the USGA changed the rule in 2019. It helps with my depth perception. I've adopted the strategy that I want to hit the pin, as opposed to dying my ball into the hole. Now I hit the ball with a little more pace. I leave fewer putts short. Putts hit a tad firmer tend to hold the line better. I don't miss on the low (amateur) side as much. And I'm making more 8-15 footers, the critical length of most of my par and bogey saves. I'm three-putting less because my lag putts are closer to gimme range.
Yes, I have seen my playing partners miss a putt or two by banging into the flag stick, but I'd say that only 1 out of 200 putts might miss because of a bad redirect off the pin. Those other 199 putts probably end up closer to the hole, or in it, with the flag stick in thanks to a better stroke and read. I realize that Fitzpatrick and I won't be able to change a century of habits putting with the flag stick out. All we ask is you try it. You might like it.