Two of England’s brightest and most successful amateur golfers are set for an experience of a lifetime when they tee-it-up in the US Masters at Augusta this week.
Internationals Matthew Fitzpatrick (Hallamshire, Yorkshire) and Garrick Porteous (Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland) will join the world’s elite for the first major of the year which gets underway in Georgia on Thursday.
Fitzpatrick qualified by winning the US Amateur Championship at The Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts, last August. Porteous, pictured at Augusta with his bag bearing the England Golf logo, earned his place when he won the Amateur Championship at Royal Cinque Ports in Kent in June.
Past Amateur champions from England have competed in the Masters, such as Peter McEvoy, Gary Wolstenholme and Sir Michael Bonallack to name but three. These days, there are only six ways for an amateur to qualify, so it is a rare occurrence to have two English champions in the same field.
What was remarkable about Fitzpatrick’s 4 and 3 victory over Oliver Goss from Australia was that he became the first Englishman to lift the US Amateur since Harold Hilton in 1911. And he made it a family affair by having his younger brother Alex as caddie.
What’s more, Fitzpatrick’s name is now etched on the impressive Havemeyer Trophy (pictured © USGA John Mummert) alongside the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson.
After his victory, Fitzpatrick said: “It’s absolutely amazing. I can’t describe what this feels like.” Later, when the dust had settled and he’d dealt with all the congratulatory messages, the 19 year old from Sheffield added: “I don’t think you’ll find a better roll call of former winners anywhere, with the exception maybe of the Masters.”
Playing at Augusta is unlikely to give Fitzpatrick cause for concern. After all, he won the Silver Medal as low amateur at last year’s Open Championship at Muirfield and he is also scheduled for the US Open at Pinehurst and an Open repeat at Royal Liverpool.
Although Fitzpatrick was quietly making a name for himself in his native north of England as a youngster, he didn’t hit the national scene until he won the Brabazon Northern Qualifier at Huddersfield in 2010 as a 15 year old.
Even then, there was a quiet confidence about him and it wasn’t long before he was representing the EGU in various European junior championships. Capped at under 16 level in 2010, he finished runner-up in the Carris Trophy the following year and also reached the quarter finals of the British Boys.
He was on his way to the top and the British Boys title was captured in 2012 along with the Daily Telegraph Junior Championship, while he became a boy international and represented GB&I in the Jacques Leglise Trophy.
Such success saw Fitzpatrick finish third that year on the Boys Order of Merit but this was just a prelude to his astonishing 2013 season. After his success at the Open, he suffered a minor dip when he was beaten, also 4 and 3, by Callum Shinkwin in the English Amateur final at Frilford Heath.
In typical style, Fitzpatrick took his defeat on the chin. “Worse things happen,” he said. “I didn’t play as well today as in previous rounds and I didn’t putt as well. The putter was cold.
“The defeat is hard to take but I’ve had a fantastic week. I didn’t get any momentum going today. If I could have done it might have been different. But I’m not taking anything away from Callum. He played better today.”
However, that defeat seemed to spur Fitzpatrick into the US Amateur and playing in front of large crowds doesn’t seem to worry him. “There must have been around 5,000 fans at the US final, totally unlike anything we get for an amateur event here,” he said.
“But I felt quite comfortable after playing the Open and the spectators were brilliant with me. They were really fair throughout but for the most part I tried to block everything out and just concentrate on each shot.”
Porteous’ rise to the top has taken a somewhat different route. An under 16 international back in 2006, illness denied him of a boy cap the following year but he finished runner-up in the Fairhaven Trophy and third in the Carris Trophy.
He then embarked on golfing scholarship at the University of Tennessee with considerable success before making his full England debut in the 2011 Home Internationals. Since then he has been a key member of the England squad, helping to win the European Nations Championship and the European Men’s Team Championship in 2013.
Porteous’ successes last year in some ways mirrored that of Fitzpatrick. Runner-up in the Welsh Stroke Play, he won the Scottish Stroke Play which set him up for his victory in the Amateur Championship. Despite difficult conditions at Deal, he beat Finland’s Toni Hakula 6 and 5 in the 36-hole final.
At the time a delighted Porteous said, “I felt confident coming into the week but I never got ahead of myself. I just played one shot at a time and it worked.”
The victory earned the man from Morpeth a slot in the Open alongside Fitzpatrick at Muirfield. They will be side-by-side again at Augusta but not for the US Open. The Masters is Porteous’ amateur swansong as he will turn professional immediately after thereby sacrificing his place at Pinehurst as Amateur champion.
“I’m not disrespecting the US Open as I’d love to play in it,” he said. “But I’d have to wait a few months and I could have lost some precious ground by then. My ambition is to earn enough money to secure my European Tour card. I have been lucky to secure an invitation to the Malaysian Open the week after the Masters and I’m also in the Indonesia Masters the following week.”
Should he achieve his aim, Porteous will join three more members of the England boys squad of seven years ago, Tommy Fleetwood, Eddie Pepperell and Matt Nixon, all of whom are established members of the European Tour.
But first the Masters beckons and Augusta National will provide familiar ground for the 24 year old from Northumberland. “When I was at university we would get Monday practice tickets for the Masters. I went there three or four times and I’ve played it twice this year. I learned a lot so I feel I know what it’s about. Obviously it will be very different in Masters week but I’m going to try to stay level-headed.”
These are arguable the biggest few weeks of Porteous’ life coming up but these may not be the last time he and Fitzpatrick walk the manicured turf at Augusta. Who knows what lies ahead for both but they have sound heads on their shoulders, the ability to live the dream and reach the top.