Matt Fitzpatrick eyes U.S. Am history

BROOKLINE, Mass. -- The U.S. Amateur is full of polished young players with bright futures, but one stuck out on the second day of match play here at the historic Country Club.

His name is Matt Fitzpatrick, an 18-year-old Englishman, who advanced Thursday to the quarterfinals with two commanding wins on the Rees Jones redesigned course that is hosting its sixth U.S. Amateur. In both his morning and afternoon matches, Fitzpatrick beat his opponents 4 and 3. He will face Adam Ball on Friday.

"It's nice to be here and doing well," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm pretty pleased to give myself a chance."

Fitzpatrick, who is headed to Northwestern in the fall to play golf, was the low amateur last month at the Open Championship with a tie for 44th.

At first glance, his boyish looks bring to mind an altar boy or one of the little kids that escort the players of his beloved Sheffield United Football team into Bramall Lane Stadium.

"Small" and "light" is how he describes his slight build.

That's probably what the Muirfield security guard was thinking in July, when he attempted to block the British Boys champion from getting balls on the range before the start of the Open Championship. The guard asked Fitzpatrick if he was getting balls for Tiger Woods, who was also at the practice facility.

But then you watch Fitzpatrick's composure on the golf course and you learn quickly that he's mature well beyond his years or innocent-looking face. He has a solid golf swing with a good short game.

Fitzpatrick is poised to be the next Luke Donald, set to be like his older countryman: a star at Northwestern, a Walker Cupper, Ryder Cupper and international pro star.

Donald, Ian Poulter and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose are all former star English boys players and set an excellent template for Fitzpatrick to follow.

"The comparisons are nice," said Fitzpatrick, who noted that Donald played no role in his decision to attend Northwestern. "I can't deny that. But I don't want things to get out of hand with 'he's going to be this, he's going to be that,' when I'm still 18 with lots of time."

At Muirfield, Fitzpatrick had Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan sign his golf bag after playing in a practice round with them. In the first two rounds, he played with Jordan Spieth and Russell Henley, two young players he is certain to face down the road if he makes it to the PGA Tour.

But he is in no rush to join them in the pro ranks. He wants to attend college so he will have something to fall back on if the golf doesn't work out.

Though Fitzpatrick was star struck with being in the company of all his golfing heroes, he wasn't surprised with how well he played in his first major championship.

"I didn't have any expectations," he said. "I was used to that sort of play on links courses, so for me it was just taking one shot a time. The Open week was the best week of my life by a mile."

Even with that performance at Muirfield and being the second ranked amateur in the world, he feels no pressure to win this week at the Country Club.

"I wouldn't say that I'm under pressure at any event because at the end of the day, all you can do is play your best," he said. "If it's not your day, it's not your day."

Still, he will benefit from the experience at Muirfield in his upcoming quarterfinal match on Friday.

"I think having the big crowds and being on TV holds you in good stead for something like this," Fitzpatrick said. "No offense to the U.S. Am, but it's a bit smaller than the Open Championship.

"But don't get me wrong, the crowds here are fantastic. I can't believe how strong they are. I quite enjoy playing in front of a crowd."

On Thursday, Fitzpatrick noted the comparisons between Muirfield and the Country Club. Both courses, he said, play fast and firm with deep rough and tight fairways. The major difference, he offered, was that Muirfield didn't have the Country Club's rough around the greens.

An Englishman hasn't won the U.S. Amateur since Harold Hilton took it in 1911 at the Apawamis Club in Rye, N.Y. Now with Neil Raymond's 1-up win over Nathan Holman, there will be two Englishmen in the final eight.

The GB&I hasn't made its Walker Cup picks for the biennial matches against the United States, so there is more at stake here than just winning this championship for Fitzpatrick.

"Making the Walker Cup is definitely a target for me," he said. "I knew that if I played well here it would improve my chances so the further I get the bigger increase."

Coming into the media center in the Curling building at the Country Club, Fitzpatrick ran into Raymond.

"You can put it on the record," said the playful 27-year-old Raymond, who is the oldest player left in the matches, pointing to Fitzpatrick. "This is the greatest player, the Silver Medal winner of the Open Championship."

By Sunday night, Raymond could be adding another honorific to Fitzpatrick's name.