AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - English teenager Matthew Fitzpatrick is the youngest player in the field at this week’s Masters and over the moon about playing at Augusta.
The 19-year-old reigning U.S. Amateur champion is bubbling with excitement but not expected to be whistling while he works around the fabled Augusta National layout in this year’s first major championship.
“It’s such an amazing place and much more amazing than I ever thought it would be,” Fitzpatrick told reporters after his practice round on Tuesday with two-times major winner Rory McIlroy. “The course and the place itself is just fantastic. There’s nowhere in the world like it.”
Fitzpatrick will be paired with defending Masters champion Adam Scott and PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner for the first two rounds starting on Thursday.
Scott fondly recalled his first round at Augusta as a 21-year-old in 2002.
“I got to play my first two rounds ever with Fuzzy Zoeller in the tournament, so he was whistling off the first tee (laughter),” Scott said about the fun-loving 1979 champion, the last player to win the Masters in his first appearance.
”I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but it was certainly a little more light-hearted than I thought.
“Unfortunately for Matthew, I‘m not going to be whistling off the first tee,” the Australian, dead serious about trying to retain the green jacket, said to laughter in the interview room. “So he’ll have to find another way to calm down.”
It will not be Fitzpatrick’s first exposure to major championship pressures.
Fitzpatrick showed his talents by becoming the low amateur at last July’s British Open. One month later, he became the first Briton to win the U.S. Amateur in 102 years, earning an invitation to the Masters, the U.S. Open and British Open.
He played for Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup in September, posting a 3-1 record in a 17-9 loss to the United States.
“My aim is to make the cut,” said Fitzpatrick, who has left Northwestern University to sample big-time golf this spring and is weighing his options about turning professional.
“That’s the aim at the start of the year for me is to make the cut in the majors.”
U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, playing his ninth Masters, said the odds were very much stacked against first-time players.
“First of all, you’ve got to get over being here,” said England’s Rose. “It’s such an awe-inspiring place. A lot of times as a first-timer, you can’t help but just be at Augusta taking it all in and potentially not as laser-focused on playing the golf course.”
Fitzpatrick said he valued one key bit of advice from Northern Irishman McIlroy, who he joined for practice in an impromptu arrangement at the driving range.
”He was such a nice guy. Couldn’t speak more highly about him,“ said the teenager. ”Main thing he said to me was make sure you enjoy it.
“For me, this could be once-in-a-lifetime, so got to enjoy it while I can.”
Editing by Frank Pingue