Matthew Fitzpatrick, a 27-year-old from England who’s won eight times in Europe, nabbed his first win on the PGA Tour in an emphatic manner, by taking the U.S. Open on the same course where he won the U.S. Amateur nine years ago. Fitzpatrick took home the $3.15 million winner’s check after shooting a final-round 68 for a 6-under 274 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., the course where 20-year-old Francis Ouimet outdueled two English stars of the game in 1913 to put golf on the map in the U.S.
The impact of Ouimet’s story, retold in The Greatest Game Ever Played, can’t be oversold. Before his win there were 350,000 golfers in the U.S.; two years later there were 2.1 million. Despite the fame his victory afforded him, Ouimet remained an amateur for life, which provides another poignant counterpoint to the latest developments in the game.
The U.S. Open has long handed out the biggest paycheck among the four majors, so after the Masters and the PGA Championship upped their total purses to $12.5 million earlier this year, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Open would follow suit. And since it paid out $12.5 last year, a jump to $13.5 figured to do the trick, but in these days of mad money for pro golfers, the USGA goosed the pot to $17.5 million.
It’s hard not to see the influence of LIV Golf in that total. The Saudi-backed exhibition series didn’t get much attention over the final 36 holes, since none of the players on its roster were in contention. Only four of 13 in the field made the cut (Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and Richard Bland), and among them the top finisher was Johnson, who tied for 24th at 4 over par. A rusty Phil Mickelson bowed out after shooting 78-73 to miss the cut at 11-over.
That doesn’t mean the new series didn’t draw its share of attention. Early in the week Mickelson endured an oddly restrained media session, and Bryson DeChambeau talked about his choice to sign up. “It was a business decision, first and foremost,” he said. “That’s all there was to it. It’s given me a lot more opportunities outside of the game of golf and given me more time with my family and my future family. So for me, that was the decision.”
DeChambeau, who is single, famously transformed his game by building a gym in his house and working out three times a day. A recent hand injury that was at least partly related to his training and swing speed raised questions about how his body will hold up if he continues to swing as hard as necessary to maintain his distance advantage. He reportedly received at least $100 million up front to join LIV. The former physics major at SMU can do math.
LIV players who had already qualified for the Open were allowed to play this year because the series only kicked off a week earlier, and USGA officials didn’t think it would be fair to change course at such a late stage. At the same time, the association’s new executive director, Mike Whan, didn’t promise the national championship would always welcome LIV golfers. When questioned about LIV, he said he was personally “saddened” by the division in the game, and later added “could [I] envision a day where it would be harder for some folks doing different things to get into a U.S. Open? I could. Will that be true? I don’t know, but I can definitely foresee that day.”
Over the weekend, LIV CEO Greg Norman said his series would apply for recognition in the Official World Golf Ranking points system on Monday, which, if approved, could allow LIV players a chance to gain exemptions to play in the four majors, as well as other events. Of course, a lack of competitive events against other highly ranked players could cause LIV golfers to play their way out of the majors.
For now, golf’s dramatic focus shifts to Portland, where LIV will play the first of its five U.S.-based events on June 30, then the British Open, which will take place at St. Andrews July 20-23. Leaders of the R&A, which runs the British event, are expected to follow the USGA’s lead for similar reasons.
Perhaps the only person in golf who’s not curious about what will happen next is Fitzpatrick, who’s busy once again celebrating in Boston and figuring out how to spend $3 million.