Little brother Alex Fitzpatrick has star quality to sink world No 1

James Corrigan
The Telegraph
Alex Fitzpatrick had the backing of big brother Matt as he took on the US’s Cole Hammer - Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Alex Fitzpatrick had the backing of big brother Matt as he took on the US’s Cole Hammer - Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Matt Fitzpatrick was anything but surprised to see his brother, Alex, take down the world No 1 here on the first day of the Walker Cup here as Great Britain and Ireland battled to a 7-5 lead.

“When Alex was a little kid he would always be the one who shoved over the big kids,” Matt said. Cole Hammer would testify to the gumption of the younger Fitzpatrick.

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On a glorious opening day at Royal Liverpool, where more than 5,000 enjoyed one of the great privileges in golf by walking down the fairways behind the protagonists, Fitzpatrick was one of two GB&I players to win two points as Craig Watson’s team established themselves as favourites to win back the Walker Cup.

On any other day, Conor Gough, the 17-year-old from Essex, would have been the undoubted star for defying his age by first partnering countryman Harry Hall to a 2&1 foursomes victory over Stewart Hagestad and Akshay Bhatia and then accounting for Isaiah Salinda by two holes.

Yet there was something about Fitzpatrick being followed by his famous sibling – with his five European Tour titles and more than £10m in earnings – that captured the crowd’s imagination. Watson, himself, spotted the possibilities of the 20-year-old spearheading the home challenge and sent him off first in both sessions accordingly. This natural performer did not disappoint.

The world No 36 was excellent in the morning as he and Ireland’s Conor Purcell saw off John Augenstein and Andy Ogletree 2&1. The overall score was tied at lunchtime 2-2 and so Watson sent out Fitzpatrick against 19-year-old Hammer.

It was an enthralling tussle which appeared to be destined to finish early when Fitzpatrick holed a curling 30-footer on the 15th to go two up. But Hammer, plainly a brilliant practitioner on the greens, won the 16th with his own 10-footer and then conjured and up-and-down from the bunker on the 17th to insure it down the last.

Matt could barely watch. “Honestly, I was more nervous watching Alex than I’ve ever been myself on the course,” the Ryder Cup player said.

“I was pulling my hair out at some stages, thinking ‘why’s he hit that shot?’ – but I’m hardly going to go drag him to the range and say ‘this is how you do it’, am I?

“Anyway, Alex showed on the 18th what he is all about. I would love to have that stinger shot that he hit in my bag.” The two-iron arrowed itself on to the fairway and he struck his wedge to 12 feet. That made it shake-hands time. Matt was soon at the back of the 18th to congratulate him and so the galleries responded. America are strong, however, and today could easily be a classic.

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