But the real lesson Fitzpatrick lived this week was less about comfort on the course and more about the comfort of friends. And family. And friends who become family.
For Fitzpatrick, the heartbeat of his nervy, clutch and beautiful Sunday duel with American Will Zalatoris, whom he ended up defeating by one stroke in finishing at 6-under par for the tournament, was shared with his own family. With his parents, Russ and Sue, and his brother Alex, the trio who’d held their breath and held their nerves as they walked the 18 holes alongside him. But it was also shared with the Fultons, with Will and Jennifer of Jamaica Plain, with their four children, too, the six amazingly generous people who had opened their home to the Fitzpatricks in 2013 and did so again this week.
Not to mention so many times in between.
“They are just amazing, amazing people,” Alex said Sunday, still wearing this heady mix of joy and shock all across his dimpled face. “They were very generous to step up for us back in ‘13 and for everything since. We are incredibly appreciative for the things they’ve done for us, putting us up, treating us so well. They are the definition of extremely nice people and we definitely feel like they are family. A hundred percent family. They might not be bloodline, but a hundred percent we call them family. They are amazing.”
As the story goes, it was late in the 2013 tournament and Matt had advanced beyond the hotel accommodations his family planned for, and everything was booked up. The call went out to the members at The Country Club for someone who could take them in, and within moments, Will and Jen raised their hands. Both working as volunteers at the time, they ran home at the end of their day and quickly changed the sheets in the kids’ bedrooms, packed their own four into a couple of rooms together, and opened their doors.
In went Matt to the guest room. In went Russ and Sue to their daughter’s room. In went Alex, then working as his brother’s caddie, into a bunk bed.
“We could not have asked for nicer hosts,” Russ recalled Sunday, walking toward the players’ parking lot, Red Sox cap on his head, party at the Fultons in his future. “They’re just amazing people with four amazing kids. It’s just a family that has made Matt feel so relaxed.”
Games of ping pong back then — “I take my ping pong very seriously and he whipped me time and time again,” Will remembered, not so fondly, but with a laugh — morphed into games of video games to this day. But while other parameters may have changed too, such as Matt traveling now with his own chef, Sean from Sheffield who spent the week preparing breakfast and dinner daily for 11 occupants at Fulton House, the dynamics of the relationship haven’t so much changed as gotten stronger.
And more impactful. In returning to Brookline this year and walking back into the Fulton family house, it was as if Matt was walking into a hug, a welcoming, relaxing atmosphere that no doubt helped him succeed.
“So much,” Russ said. “It definitely had an impact because normally he’d be in a hotel or a house with just a few people. It was just genuinely like home.”
“We really wanted to recreate what we did in ‘13 because Matt was so incredibly successful in ‘13 and we wanted to do it this year, too,” said Will, who actually served as the general chairman of the championship, a role that is assumed by a member and does not include financial compensation, but does include a near-decade long commitment. With Jennifer overseeing the volunteer crew of 3,500 people, there’s little doubt the Fitzpatricks would have understood if having guests would have been too much.
Not a chance. Not when friends become family.
“My brother said at the start of the week it felt a bit like a home game, just we’re lucky to have familiar faces and just to experience this with [the Fultons] is phenomenal,” Alex said.
Globe correspondent Jayna Bardahl contributed.