BROOKLINE, Mass. — Matt Fitzpatrick of England is a champion again at The Country Club, this time with the grandest of trophies in golf.
A U.S. Amateur champion in 2013. The U.S. Open champion Sunday.
In a three-way battle at Brookline that came down to the wire, Fitzpatrick seized control with a great break and an even better shot on the 15th hole for a two-shot swing. He was just as clutch from a fairway bunker on the 18th that set up a par for a 2-under 68.
Victory was not secure until Will Zalatoris, who showed amazing fight back from every mistake, dropped to his knees when his 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th slid by the left side of the cup. Zalatoris, who closed with a 69, was a runner-up in a second straight major.
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler never recovered from back-to-back bogeys to start the back nine that cost him the lead. He had a 25-foot birdie chance on the 18th that just missed and left him one behind with a 67.
Along with the $3.15 million in prize money, Fitzpatrick had that gold Jack Nicklaus medal draped around his neck, which was only fitting.
He’s the second man to win a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open on the same course, joining Nicklaus, who turned the trick at Pebble Beach. Juli Inkster won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes.
Fitzpatrick, 27, enrolled at Northwestern in September 2013 and played the fall season for the Wildcats. He left school after one quarter to focus on his golf career and turned pro after the 2014 U.S. Open.
Sunday’s victory was his eighth worldwide and his first in America — at least in a tournament everyone knows about. He won the member-member at the start of the year at The Bear’s Club in Florida, the course Nicklaus built.
“He gave me a bit of abuse at the start of the year,” Fitzpatrick said. “He said, ‘Finally. Congratulations for winning in the States.’”
And then slightly lifting the trophy, Fitzpatrick sent a fun message to Nicklaus: “Jack, I won a second time.”
It took a good break, a signature shot and some guts at the end.
Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris were tied going to the 15th when the Englishman hit his tee shot so far right that it went into the gallery and found a decent lie on grass that was dead and trampled. Zalatoris missed by only a few yards and was buried in deep grass.
Fitzpatrick hit 5-iron from 220 yards to 18 feet below the hole. Zalatoris went into the front bunker, blasted out to 25 feet and made bogey. Fitzpatrick took a two-shot lead when his birdie putt went into the cup with such perfect pace, it didn’t even touch the pin he leaves in the cup.
Zalatoris again bounced back, taking on a tough pin at the par-3 16th for a 7-foot birdie to cut the lead to one shot. Both missed 12-foot birdie chances on the 17th, and then Fitzpatrick missed a fairway at the wrong time, pulling it left into a bunker with a steep patch of rough right in front of him.
It looked like a playoff was eminent — the previous three U.S. Opens at Brookline were all decided by a playoff — and then Fitzpatrick fearlessly hit a fade with a 9-iron that carried the gaping bunker in front of the green and settled 18 feet away.
He narrowly missed, finishing at 6-under 274, and could only watch as Zalatoris missed his last chance.
“Matt’s shot on 18 is going to be shown probably for the rest of U.S. Open history,” Zalatoris said. “I walked by it, and I thought that going for it was going to be ballsy. But the fact that he pulled it off and even had a birdie look was just incredible.
“So hat’s off to him. He played great all week obviously and gave a solid round today.”
Fitzpatrick, the first Englishman since Justin Rose in 2013 to win the U.S. Open, felt his time was coming. He is meticulous in charting his shots and keeps a record of all of them to identify what needs work. And he emphasized speed in his swing over the last two years, giving him the length and the belief to compete with anyone.
That didn’t make Sunday any easier, a three-man race from the start when Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy fell back and never rejoined the mix.
Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris, who shared the 54-hole lead, each had a two-shot lead at one point.
Zalatoris, who lost in a playoff to Justin Thomas in the PGA Championship last month, recovered from two early bogeys. They were tied when Zalatoris made an 18-foot birdie putt on the short par-3 11th and Fitzpatrick three-putted for bogey from the same range.
The 25-year-old from Dallas suddenly had a two-shot lead. He also couldn’t keep the ball in the fairway, and it cost him with a dropped shot on No. 12. And then came another big turning point, with Fitzpatrick holing a 50-foot birdie putt across the 13th green. Zalatoris did well to make his 15-footer for par and they headed for the tense conclusion.
Scheffler was still hanging around in his bid for a second major this year, but everyone else became a distant memory. Hideki Matsuyama had the low round of the week at 65, but he finished at 3-under 277 and that was never going to be good enough.
In the end, it was Fitzpatrick sharing hugs with his family on the green, including younger brother Alex, who caddied for him in the U.S. Amateur and recently turned pro.
And there was his caddie, Billy Foster, one of the most popular, longest-serving loopers in Europe who had never been on the bag for a major until Sunday.
“Billy said it for a while to keep doing what you’re doing and the chance will come,” Fitzpatrick said. “It did, and I took it.”