Fitzpatrick brothers both in Open field, both looking for own success
HOYLAKE, England – Two sets of brothers will tee it up in the year’s final major.
The Hojgaard twins, Rasmus and Nicolai, have become fixtures on the DP World Tour, but The Open’s return to Hoylake is also a family affair for the Fitzpatricks.
Matt, the world No. 9, is being joined in the field by his younger brother Alex, who earned one of the five spots at a final Open qualifier two weeks ago at West Lancashire.
This will mark Alex’s first major championship start – a decade after Matt made his Open debut at Muirfield, where he earned the silver medal as the low amateur.
“I think it’s amazing,” Matt said Monday. “If you would have said 10 years ago you’d play The Open in 2023, you’d have won a major and your brother would be playing in one, I think we’d both be like, What? It’s kind of a lot to take in, really.”
Unlike some of his peers who have taken the fast track to Tour status, Alex, 24, is now a second-year pro competing on a developmental circuit in Europe. He has enjoyed some success this year on the European Challenge Tour, with three top-10s, but he remains outside the top 500 in the world ranking and looking for his big break.
Drawing upon his own experience in this position, Matt offered two bits of advice this week: play only nine holes a day in practice to stay fresh, and then decline any media availability to remain focused on his preparation. Matt, 28, was happy to shoulder the burden Monday in a press conference that – in a refreshing change – was largely dominated by questions about his brother.
“It’s an exciting week, and I’m just so pleased for him,” Matt said. “I think it gives him a good boost of confidence qualifying, and there’s no reason why he can’t do well this week. It’s a golf course in 2006 that required really good accuracy off the tee and great iron play. He can definitely do that.”
Matt said that he could also empathize with Alex’s journey through the mini-tours, just as Brooks Koepka has discussed how difficult it must be for younger brother Chase to follow in a famous sibling’s footsteps.
“I remember when I first got on Tour, Alex was still at my golf club and members would come up to him all the time: How’s Matt doing? Where’s Matt? Not, How are you doing? How’s your game? It was just always asking about me,” Matt said.
“Well, I completely understand how it feels now, because it’s the other way around – literally the majority of questions are, How’s Alex? I totally get how it is, and I’m sure for him growing up it was probably very annoying. It’s hard for him to have his own identity and have his own game. People are kind of putting him into, Oh, he’s got to be like his brother, when we are actually polar opposites. So he’s just learning. It’s all new to him. But I definitely empathize with him, and I think he’s handling it pretty well so far.”
Alex may have shut down any interview requests at Royal Liverpool, but last week, after qualifying, he talked to reporters about the difficulty of being “Matt’s brother” in this competitive arena.
“It’s a very difficult topic,” Alex said. “It’s something I’ve dealt with since I was young. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Sometimes, it’s pretty hard. You’ve got tweets sent to you from people with random messages saying, ‘You’re not as good as your brother,’ and other little things. I love my brother to death and he’s a fantastic golfer; I would never change it for the world. But people expect you to do a lot of things, and it’s hard to live up to that. But you make your own path, and I feel like I’m on my way to doing that.”
As for the elder Fitzpatrick, he’s trying to reverse his current path for the season. Though he won at the RBC Heritage in April, Matt admittedly is not in the best form currently (one top-10 in his last seven starts) and owns a worse record in The Open than any other major. His best finish: a tie for 20th in 2019.
“I’ve got to be realistic about where I am, where my game is. It’s not, obviously, where I’d like it to be,” Matt said. “I think everyone would like to be playing golf like Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler right now, but that’s pretty rare for the rest of us. I think for me, a good finish, all jokes aside, would be top 30 this week. I really do. I’ve not played well in Opens, and I wouldn’t say I’m in the best form, either. So I’ve got to be realistic about where I am.”
By his own admission, at least, the title of low Fitzpatrick could be up for grabs.