Matt Fitzpatrick will reach his corner after missing a green, repeat a few practice swings and pause for the predictable murmurs, mumbles and chirps of the crowd that will inevitably begin to flow through the gallery ropes. He and veteran caddy Billy Foster will look at each other and laugh. They have come to expect real gems.
“I find it hilarious,” Fitzgerald said of the reaction he gets as he prepares to throw or chip while crossing. “I will hear in the crowd: ‘Oh, my God! What is he doing?’ Really, it’s hilarious. But it worked very well for me. My chipping stats are 100% better this year than last. It’s a good start.
It’s not like Fitzpatrick, 27, a player with seven wins in Europe and ranked 23rd in the Official World Golf Rankings ahead of this week’s RBC Heritage, was a terrible chipper when he used conventional technique. He just thought he could be better and save a few hits. And he did. Fitzpatrick had used a cross chip drill for several years, and he always loved how his hitting felt so consistent when he did it. So why not put technique into play in tournament rounds? According to Foster, he’s been playing mostly cross-handed for about a year.
“People think he’s probably got the yips or something,” said Foster, who caddyed for World Golf Hall of Famer Seve Ballesteros, during the recent Florida Swing. “He doesn’t. He hits brilliantly.
Foster said Fitzpatrick tended to “cut” the ball just a little when conventional (his path through the ball coming a fraction inside). So far in 2021-22, Fitzpatrick’s play around the greens has been a real asset. He missed 14 greens in his first three rounds at Valspar’s championship, and he up-and-down 12 times, ranking as high as second in scrambling (he finished the week sixth). Fitzpatrick finished tied for third in scrambling at last week’s Masters.
Overall in 2021-22, he ranks 15th in strokes gained: around the green and third in scrambling, getting his ball up and down 68.93% of the time. Two years ago, for comparison, he ranked 138th in strokes gained: around the green and 99th in scrambling (58.79%).
Playing partners can do a double take the first time they see Fitzpatrick go to work around the greens, but they shouldn’t underestimate him. In a group playoff against Scottie Scheffler at last month’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Fitzpatrick had a world chip to set up a birdie on the fifth playoff hole, nesting a smooth downhill tester (with a tree just behind him) to one foot. Scheffler won the playoff on the next hole, en route to winning the tournament, and is the hottest player in golf. Fitzpatrick has also been on a hot streak lately.
With the exception of THE PLAYERS Championship – where Fitzpatrick was on the wrong end of the draw in terrible conditions and shot a pair of hard-earned 74s – his other five starts in stroke play in 2022 have all resulted in finishes of T14 or better. (He was T14 at last week’s Masters.) He finished fifth at the Valspar Championship, sixth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and ninth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. Last fall on the DP World Tour, Fitzpatrick also won the Estrella Damm NA Andalucía Masters and was a runner-up at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
He enjoys the challenge of Harbor Town Golf Links, where the greens are very small and the short game can be essential for grappling. A year ago, Fitzpatrick tied for fourth at RBC Heritage. Why has the quality of his short game increased with his unorthodox technique?
“I just found it more cohesive,” Fitzpatrick said. “The ball goes out of the face much more consistently. It’s the same thing every time. You know what’s coming. When I was tapping normally, it’s not like I got the yelps. I was just getting a lot of inconsistency in strike and release. I started doing it a few years ago in the raw, because I felt the technique really brought the (club)head out.
“For me, I can’t drag my hands, because I’m going to squeeze it if I go through. It helps me throw the head, and I feel like I have a lot more control over it. …I got so comfortable with it, and now I really like doing it.
Fitzpatrick still uses a conventional grip when in the bunkers. (“Bunkers aren’t a problem,” he said.) He usually uses his cross technique from 30 yards out. On some shots – say, a shot on the flop or a shot where he needs to generate high spin, like a pitch he faced a front hole location behind the pond on the left side at the 11th hole of Augusta National last week – he will still use a conventional grip.
Fitzpatrick is certainly not the first player to play cross-handed. TOUR winners Vijay Singh and Chris Couch have landed and even hit bunker shots this way, and Korn Ferry Tour player Josh Broadaway play crossed from tee to green. Golf is an imitation sport. Could Fitzpatrick, given his new chipping prowess, start a new chipping trend with his cross-handed method?
“Oh, I don’t know,” he laughs. “I’m happy with my start to the year; I played very well. I think the changes I made in the offseason were positive. I think it’s a matter of time before I go all out and hopefully get some (wins).”