What a week, what a tournament! The 2022 U.S. Open is in the books: Matt Fitzpatrick earned his first career major (and first professional win on U.S. soil); The Country Club was perhaps the weekend’s biggest star; and some of the stars that were in the field struggled to live (not LIV) up to expectations. Here are six takeaways from a truly wonderful tournament, starting with the braces-sporting winner:
Matt Fitzpatrick Is the Real Thing
There are plenty of ridiculous factoids and stats attached to Fitzpatrick’s performance this weekend. He became just the second male golfer to win the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open on the same course (Jack Nicklaus did it first, at Pebble Beach). He hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation in his final round, just the third person to do that in a major win in the past 30 years after Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters and Brooks Koepka at the 2017 U.S. Open. He had a ball-striking performance for the ages. And, perhaps rarest of all, it seems entirely sustainable.
Fitzpatrick has been a menace with an iron in his hands for years now. That skill has brought him eight wins on the European Tour and helped earn him a T-5 finish at the PGA Championship last month. But he’s had to work in other areas. He’s dramatically increased his ball speed over the past two years, which has helped him get long enough off the tee to compete with golf’s heavy hitters.
DJs drive vs. Fitzpatrick’s drive in the first, which is just so epic pic.twitter.com/M1ZAROivDY— LKD (@LukeKerrDineen) June 17, 2022
And for the past 12 years, he’s meticulously logged every shot he’s hit to learn his own tendencies and get an accurate read on not only how he hits the ball, but also how his outcomes compare to his goals. That may seem like overkill, and much of what he logs he probably never thinks of again. But with the championship on the line Sunday, and Fitzpatrick facing an extremely tricky second shot out of a fairway bunker on 18, he made a shot that I’m sure he’ll be coming back to every day for the foreseeable future—as he should.
How do you define clutch?@MattFitz94 hit this shot on 18 to help secure the #USOpen title. pic.twitter.com/iQcOGxph0Z— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) June 19, 2022
Will Zalatoris Got Outdueled Again—But He Won’t Be Down Long
For the second straight major, Zalatoris went head-to-head with the eventual champion and fell just short. At the PGA Championship in Southern Hills, he lost to a surging Justin Thomas in a three-hole playoff. And this time, Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick spent 18 holes making clutch putts, incredible iron shots, and plenty of fist pumps, only for Zalatoris to juuuust miss a putt at 18 to tie Fitz at 6-under and force another playoff.
The scene was devastating: Zalatoris hunched over, hands still gripping his putter as they flew up toward his face in disbelief. To get so close, so often—this was his sixth top-10 in a major, and third second-place finish in just over a year—only to have it slip through your hands again and again and again has to be exhausting. But unlike other players on the leaderboard who got close but couldn’t close, Zalatoris’s effort feels more exhilarating than discouraging. He got close to the mountaintop, again, at a course that kicked players’ butts all weekend. And even after going 2-over through his first three holes on Sunday, he rallied and came within an inch (literally) of matching Fitzpatrick.
Bizarre short-putting stroke aside, Zalatoris looks to be a major championship contender for a long time. And pretty soon—maybe even a month from now at the Old Course—he’ll finally get the win.
The Country Club Is an Elite U.S. Open Course
The Country Club produces incredible finishes. That’s what’s happened at most every important event held there throughout the course’s 140-year existence. The 1913, 1963, and 1988 U.S. Opens all went to a playoff. The Americans won the 1999 Ryder Cup there in dramatic fashion. And now, we got a ball-striking battle for the ages, as Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris, and Scottie Scheffler outlasted a field that largely got chewed up and spit out on Saturday and Sunday.
Take the eighth hole, where Scheffler had an eagle hole out Saturday while countless others just hoped they could hit their approach shots far enough onto the green that the ball wouldn’t roll all the way back to their feet. Or the 11th, the 130-yard par 3 that looks positively adorable on TV and yet treated Scheffler to a momentum-killing bogey on Sunday. Each hole presented its own test; all of those tests were challenging; and it was great fun to see the best in the world have to reason and work their way through every shot they hit. Here’s hoping Los Angeles Country Club is as good next year—and that we’ll see Brookline again soon.
Rory McIlroy: Always a Top-10 Major Finisher, Never (in Eight Years) a Winner
Another major, another solid-if-unspectacular performance from Rory. It’s become predictable at this point: He either starts strong or finishes strong, but can’t string enough good rounds together to actually win his fifth career major, and first since 2014. And while that might be good enough for 98 percent of professional golfers out there, McIlroy’s case continues to frustrate because he still has an incredible amount of potential.
Take this week: Rory, coming off a monster win at the RBC Canadian Open, appeared to have everything working. His game was strong—enough to have finished second and eighth at the Masters and PGA Championships this season, respectively—and he had some added fire from having spent the previous week publicly defending the PGA Tour and shaming LIV Golf and all who are involved with it (more on that later). Thursday, that combination was potent enough to earn him a 67 and a place at T-2 on the leaderboard. But while he stuck around Friday, he came back to the field with a Saturday 73 and couldn’t go low enough Sunday to match Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris, and Scheffler’s incredible rounds.
This will be the fourth consecutive top-10 finish at the @usopengolf for Rory McIlroy, and the first time in his career he's finished in the top-10 in each of a season's first three majors.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) June 19, 2022
He finished tied for fifth, matching expectations but never exceeding them. And weirdly, that may have been the most frustrating thing he could have done.
Scottie Scheffler Is the World No. 1 for a Reason
Speaking of matching expectations, but in a good way, Scheffler is on an unbelievable tear. He’s won four times on Tour already this season, including the Masters in April. The U.S. Open is his second second-place finish in three events. And through the first six holes on Sunday, which he played 4-under par, he looked positively unstoppable.
Now, he came back to earth a bit on the back nine and had a chance at 18 to match Fitzpatrick and make things interesting for the final group. But even with that letdown, this week just proved that Scheffler can do it on any course, in any tournament, at any time—a scary thought for the rest of the field.
LIV Golfers Weren’t a Factor on the Course
… but they’ll still be a defining story from this tournament. Entering the week, conversation swirled around the newly minted LIV tour, the Saudi Arabian–funded outfit that is hoping to challenge the PGA Tour, and the players who’d already defected to it. Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, and others were playing in their first tournament since LIV officially teed off, and observers were curious (a) how’d they’d play on a legitimately challenging course, and (b) how guys like McIlroy and Justin Thomas, who have been vocal in their criticisms of the new tour and those who’ve joined it, would treat the reunion.
Well, there didn’t appear to be any tension during the tournament—though that’s at least partially because none of the LIV players were factors. Johnson came closest, entering Friday two shots back of the lead at 2 under par. But he rapidly deteriorated from there, shooting 73, 71, and 72 the rest of the way. Mickelson, the unquestioned headliner of the group, mercifully missed the cut after playing the first two days 11 over par. And DeChambeau arguably fared even worse than him, making the cut only to finish plus-13.
Despite those efforts, though, rumors still popped up of new players likely to jump ship to LIV. ESPN’s John Sutcliffe reported Sunday that Mexican golfer Abraham Ancer will be moving over, and many speculated whether guys like Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland may soon follow. Whether any of them actually do leave the PGA Tour remains to be seen, but the conversation shows that none of this is going away any time soon.