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Jack Nicklaus hails Matt Fitzpatrick's US Open final round as 'one of the greatest I have ever seen'

Jack Nicklaus hails Matt Fitzpatrick's US Open final round as one of the greatest he has seen - SHUTTERSTOCK
Jack Nicklaus hails Matt Fitzpatrick's US Open final round as one of the greatest he has seen - SHUTTERSTOCK

Jack Nicklaus has welcomed Matt Fitzpatrick into their exclusive club of two after the Englishman emulated the Golden Bear by winning the US Open and the US Amateur at the same course.

Fitzpatrick captured his first major title on Sunday with a one-shot win over world No 1 Scottie Scheffler and another American in Will Zalatoris, producing one of best final-hole shots in the 161-year history of the majors, finding the green here at The Country Club from a tricky spot in a fairway bunker.

That capped off a performance for which Nicklaus, the 18-time major winner, reserved high praise.

“Couldn’t be happier for a really nice young man—a terrific young man!” Nicklaus, who completed his double at Pebble Beach, posted on social media. “One of the greatest rounds of golf I have ever seen on a final day of the US Open. Matt had the pressure on him, having never won in the United States, and came through in flying colors! [sic]”

Nicklaus phoned Fitzpatrick after the presentation on the 18th green. “Coming from someone like Jack, it means the world,” the 27-year-old said. “Sharing a record with Jack Nicklaus, is unbelievable. Especially when it is just me and him. It just makes this even more special.”

Courtesy of becoming the first English winner of a major in six years - 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett was also born in Sheffield - Fitzpatrick has broken into the world’s top 10 for the first time in his career.

The Americans made great play of this being Fitzpatrick’s first victory on US soil, but he has proved himself as a winner on the European Tour, picking up seven titles before this. And having gone out in the final group on the final day of the US PGA  last month, he knew he was capable of emulating Justin Rose’s success in America’s national championship in 2013, the same year as he won the US Amateur as a teenager.

Matt Fitzpatrick of England plays a shot from a fairway bunker on the 18th hole - GETTY IMAGES
Matt Fitzpatrick of England plays a shot from a fairway bunker on the 18th hole - GETTY IMAGES

“I had the big monkey on my back of not winning over here, it's all everybody talked about and to do it in a major, there's nothing better,” Fitzaptrick said, before crediting the breakthrough to the enormous strides he has made in driving distance this season, that saw this formerly short-hitter outdrive Dustin Johnson in the first two rounds.

“I’ve spent a lot of time working with Mike Walker and my coach and biomechanist Sasho Mackenzie. Sasha gave me this speed stick called The Stack. I've been doing that religiously week in and week out. It's like going to the gym basically. It's like a training program and it's worked wonders.

“If I was in this position, four years ago, and I was playing with Will in the final group, I'd be concerned that I'm going to be 15, 20 behind him. And I felt comfortable all day that I was going to be past him, which to me gives me confidence obviously going into the next shot knowing that you've got less club. There's a bit of a mentality thing, that when you're hitting it past people, it's quite nice.”

Matt Fitzpatrick of England and caddie Billy Foster celebrate with the U.S. Open Championship - GETTY IMAGES
Matt Fitzpatrick of England and caddie Billy Foster celebrate with the U.S. Open Championship - GETTY IMAGES

Fitzpatrick was quick to congratulate Billy Foster, the 59-year-old caddie, also from Yorkshire, who finally won a major after 40 years on Tour in which he has worked with the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Thomas Bjorn.

“I can't tell you how much it means to Billy,” he said. “It's unbelievable. I know it's something he's wanted for a long, long, long time. To do it today is incredible.”

Foster later admitted that it was his idea for Fitzpatrick to play a three-wood off the tee on the last-hole, whilst the golfer was favouring a driver. Going with the shorter club, he found the fairway bunker and at that stage a play-off seemed favourite. But he hit it to 18 feet in a shot that Paul Azinger, the former US Ryder Cup captain, labelled on NBC “as good as the Sandy Lyle bunker shot [on the 18th] at Augusta all those years ago [in 1988].”

“One thing that I've been really struggling with this year is fairway bunker play,” Fitzpatrick  said.”One good thing is the way the lie was, it forced me not to go towards the pin.

“But I just feel like I'm a fast player, and when I look back, it just all happened so fast. It was like just kind of natural ability took over and I just played the shot that was at hand, as if I was a junior trying to hit it close And I didn't mean to do that, but I just committed to the shot we kind of planned and came out of it with a squeezy fade. Yeah, it was amazing. It's one of the best shots I ever hit, there's no doubt about it.”

The unassuming Fitzpatrick has always been underrated and compared himself with his beloved Sheffield United. “I feel like I'm the same deal, not expected to do well, not expected to succeed. But I've won a major today,” he said. “I feel like I’ve certainly work hard for it, and that's kind of where I've grown up from is that's the mentality of everyone around there. It's kind of you're told it's not upper class at all. It’s like and underdog mentality. You work for what you get.”

Fitzpatrick will now take two weeks off, before reappearing at the Scottish Open, the week before the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews. After picking up the winning cheque for £2.3 million, he vowed that this is just the beginning of his major odyssey.

“Six majors is the number,” he said, stating his ambition to equal Sir Nick Faldo’s European record in the modern age. “I love playing St. Andrews. It's a great golf course. It's going to be interesting, obviously, with the length and everything. Now I'm a bomber, I'll probably be driving most of the greens.”