The Open: Matt Fitzpatrick beats Jimmy Mullen to Silver Medal

 

Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick won the battle of two young Englishmen to take the Silver Medal for finishing as top amateur at the Open Championship.

The 18-year-old Hallamshire member closed with a 72 at Muirfield to finish on 10 over par, five shots clear of his only rival, Devon's Jimmy Mullen, 19.

"I feel very proud," Fitzpatrick told BBC Radio Sheffield. "That's the best I've played all week.

"I even managed to par 17 and 18, although I didn't play them too well."

Reliable caddie

Matt Fitzpatrick and Lorne Duncan

Matt Fitzpatrick's caddie, Lorne Duncan, was also on the bag for Tom Lewis when he won the Silver Medal at Royal St George's in 2011. The veteran Canadian, who has caddied in the past for stars of the calibre of Nick Faldo and Jesper Parnevik, came out of retirement to carry the young Yorkshireman's clubs around Muirfield this week

He added: "It's shown me that I can compete with these guys.

"The difference is the way they putt. They hole the long ones. And that's not quite where I am, although I did hole one today, on 16, which was a nice bonus."

Fitzpatrick, now a serious contender for the Walker Cup team to face the United States at Southampton, New York in September, will continue to resist offers to turn professional.

He is due to start at Luke Donald's former university, Northwestern in Chicago, this autumn.

"My mum and dad make sure education comes first, rather than the golf," added Fitzpatrick.

"I'll do my four years at Northwestern and get a good degree. Hopefully it's something to fall back on if the golf doesn't work out."

But the next step for this year's top two Open amateurs will be the English Amateur Championship at Frilford Heath, in Oxfordshire, starting on 29 July.

Beginning the final day at Muirfield on 11 over, two shots behind Fitzpatrick, Mullen got off to a bad start with a bogey five.

He got it back with a birdie at the third, bogeyed four and six, then birdied seven before a double-bogey seven at the ninth took him out in 39.

He then reeled off eight straight pars before finishing with a bogey at the last for a four-over-par 75.

But by then, despite a bogey at the third, the composed Fitzpatrick already looked on course to emulate his hero Tiger Woods, who won the Silver Medal at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1996.

After reaching the turn in level par thanks to a birdie at nine, he twice bounced back from setbacks, birdieing at 12 after a dropped shot at 10, before following a double bogey at the 14th with a birdie at 16.

Then came Fitzpatrick's grand finale, parring the troublesome 17th and 18th, which cost him seven of his 15 dropped shots over the first three rounds.

Mullen's esteemed roots

Royal North Devon, Jimmy Mullen's home links, at Westward Ho, is England's oldest golf course.

It has had two five-times Open champions among its members.

American Tom Watson is an honorary overseas member.

And another North Devonian, the legendary J H Taylor, who won the last of his five Open Championships at Royal Liverpool 100 years ago, set out on the same course as a caddie at the age of 11 way back in 1882.

Needless to say, Mullen uses TaylorMade clubs.

It helped that the youngest player in the field was in the reassuring presence of two elder statesmen of the game.

His playing partner was 53-year-old former Masters champion Fred Couples, while Fitzpatrick's specially chosen caddie for the week was Lorne Duncan, who carried for Tom Lewis when he won the Silver Medal at Sandwich two years ago.

Mullen, meanwhile, admits he has work to do with coach Iain Parker, head professional at his club, Royal North Devon.

He finished tied for 73rd, the same mark as Thomas Bjorn and 2004 Open winner Todd Hamilton, while Fitzpatrick was in a 10-man tie for 44th

"I'm so disappointed with the way I've played this week," the Bideford-born Mullen told BBC Radio Devon.

"I know there have been exceptions like Justin Rose and Chris Wood, but I'm surprised amateurs don't do better at the Open.

"We play such a lot of links golf, at places like Royal Lytham, Royal St George's, Royal Cinque Ports, Prince's, which are all meant to be tough links courses, that I thought I'd have a real advantage this week.

"I was playing really well coming into this tournament and, after shooting level-par first round I thought I could do something.

"But I've hit it everywhere off the tee again. I've got a lot of work to do on my game and there'll be a lot of time in the gym too."