BROOKLINE, Mass. – Matt Fitzpatrick of England took a page out of Francis Ouimet's book and advanced to the finals of the U.S. Amateur at The Country Club.
With his 14-year-old brother on his bag and opponent Corey Conners sitting in the famous Vardon bunker along the 17th fairway, Fitzpatrick knocked his approach to 20 feet, then sank the birdie putt to win 2-and-1 on Saturday. He'll play in the 36-hole final against Oliver Goss, who beat fellow Australian Brady Watt 2 up in the other semifinal.
A victory on Sunday would make Fitzpatrick the first U.S. Amateur champion from England since Harold Hilton in 1911. And he would do it at the course where Ouimet, a local amateur with a 10-year-old caddie on his bag, beat British pros Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the 1913 U.S. Open in an upset that gave golf its first and biggest boost in the United States.
"It's a nice position to be in," said Fitzpatrick, who along with Goss earned a spot in the U.S. Open and an expected invitation to the Masters just by making the finals. "But again, it's not the end of the world if it doesn't come off tomorrow. There is worse things, so I'm just giving it my best, and if I don't play well enough on the day, then that's that, really."
The low amateur at the 2013 British Open, Fitzpatrick fell behind by two after four holes but turned it around with a 30-foot birdie putt on the sixth hole, tied it when he chipped in from 25 feet on No. 8 and then added another birdie on the 10th hole to take the lead.
"I think that was sort of a bit of a turning point," he said. "Those three holes were the big change, really."
Fitzpatrick took a 2-up lead into the 166-yard, par-3 16th hole, but he landed in the bunker while Conners put his drive about two feet from the pin and made birdie.
Down one on the 17th tee, Conners drove into the same bunker that Vardon found during the playoff against Ouimet in the 1913 U.S. Open. His approach was short of the green, and the next shot was within a foot or two. But Fitzpatrick reached the front of the green – about where Justin Leonard was in the 1999 Ryder Cup – and made birdie to end the match.
"He rolled in his 25 foot putt up the hill, which I was kind of expecting from what he'd done all throughout the day," Conners said. "Any time he was in a difficult place where he had little chance of getting it close, he hit an unbelievable little flop shot or pitch shot and played right beside the hole. When your opponent does that ... it kind of deflates the tires a little bit."
Fitzpatrick, 18, has already committed to Northwestern, where he will be a freshman this fall, taking some pressure off this week as he waited the results of his "A-levels" back home. Now he can focus on Goss, a 19-year-old Australian who reached the quarterfinals last year.
Goss, who plays college golf at Tennessee, won the 2012 Western Australia Amateur.
"I'm trying to be as calm as possible, and I've got a big day ahead of me tomorrow," he said. "It hasn't sunk in yet, all the things that come along with being a finalist like playing in the Masters and the U.S. Open. I'm definitely trying to keep as calm as possible, but it definitely hasn't sunk in, and I don't think it will for at least a couple of days."
Goss and Watt, regular playing partners in Australia, were all square through 10 holes before Goss took the lead on No. 11. Watt, who was the co-medalist in the stroke play portion of the tournament, lipped out on an eagle putt on No. 14 and settled for a birdie, but Goss made a 30-footer to halve the hole and held on for the win.
"It really looked like I was going to be going even with four holes to play, and to sink that putt was just unbelievable," said Goss, who was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the Red Sox game on Saturday with Fitzpatrick. "I don't know if I could do it again if I had 100 balls. But just to sink that putt was definitely a game-changer, and definitely had a huge advantage because I went to the next tee full of confidence."
For Watt, it had the opposite effect.
"Whatever I did really well, he kind of did a little bit better," he said. "But I'm right there, and I'm really happy with myself. It doesn't feel like a loss to me because I've had such a great experience in the States, and I take a lot out of it."