Friday 13 December 2019

Augusta bans British amateur Matt Fitzpatrick's caddie for wearing sandals

Britain's amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy (C) walk to the seventh green during a practice round ahead of the Masters golf tournament
Britain's amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy (C) walk to the seventh green during a practice round ahead of the Masters golf tournament

Matt Fitzpatrick, the young US amateur champion from Sheffield, was forced into a late change of caddie before his Masters debut after the green jackets barred his original choice of bagman because of his footwear.

In a bizarre tale which will surely enter the Augusta annals of pettiness, Lorne Duncan was told by officials that he could not wear his usual sandals because it was against the club rules.

Duncan suffers from a foot problem and had a furious row with the tournament director, who he called “pathetic”.

He said: “I can’t wear trainers [because of his condition]. Apparently aesthetics are more important than people.”

Duncan is an experienced Masters operator having worked with the Swede Jesper Parnevik and also has a reputation of helping amateurs in majors.

He was on Fitzpatrick’s bag when he made the cut in The Open at Muirfield last year and was alongside Tom Lewis when he shot a first-round 65 at Sandwich in 2011, the lowest score by an amateur in the Open’s history.

His sudden absence meant that Fitzpatrick had a frantic search and even considered asking a friend to perform the duties.

The 19-year-old’s coach, Mike Walker, asked Lee Westwood’s caddie, Billy Foster, if he could help and Foster, also a Yorkshireman, summoned the Northern Irishman Ricky Elliott, who works for the South African Brooks Koepka.

Elliott has caddied for Ben Curtis at Augusta and Fitzpatrick put on a brave face, despite what must have been an unsettling experience.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m very happy to be here and look forward to the week with an experienced caddie on the bag.”

Elliott had an immediate impact, fixing up Fitzpatrick to play with Rory McIlroy in a practice round on Tuesday.

“I’m very impressed with Matt’s game,” McIlroy said afterwards. “He hits the ball nice. He is not overly long but he is very solid, very steady and has a very tidy short game. And he does not seem to be in awe of the venue.”

Fitzpatrick is partnering the defending champion Adam Scott in Thursday’s first round. “I can’t imagine how good it must feel to be a 19-year-old playing the Masters,” Scott said.

“I got to play my first two rounds here on my debut with Fuzzy Zoeller and he was whistling as we walked off the first tee. So it was a more light-hearted experience than I thought it would be.

“Unfortunately for Matt I’m not going to be whistling on the first tee, so he’ll just have to find another way to calm down. Matt just needs to enjoy it.”

Another current major champion, Jason Dufner, the USPGA champion, makes up the three-ball while McIlroy is partnered with the American wonderkids Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

Neither suffers from self-belief issues, with Spieth declaring that he sees no reason why he should not become the first newcomer since Zoeller in 1979 to win the Masters and Reed claiming to be “a top five in the world player” after winning the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral last month.

Reed is an interesting character, admitting here that he was arrested while in college for possession of alcohol and possession of a fraudulent ID, hardly the most heinous of crimes.

“I went out, had a drink, got arrested, but I learned a lot from it,” Reed told “It was a blessing in disguise.

"I grew as a person, and it taught me to stay focused on my goals to be successful and take me where I am today.”

There were other incidents which led to him not being selected for the 2010 Walker Cup in Aberdeen.

But Reed has persevered and has emerged as a huge talent, albeit with a huge opinion of himself. McIlroy welcomed the challenge, the world No8 quipping: “There’s going to be no top-five players in that group.”

He added: “It feels funny that they are going to be playing their first Masters and I’m playing my sixth – I’ll feel like the veteran in the group.

“Patrick has won three times on the PGA Tour and Jordan has obviously won once, and was last year’s rookie of the year and played on the Presidents Cup.

"So they are accomplished guys. I certainly was a little tentative on my debut here in 2009, but they are aggressive players who have shown that they can play well on big stages.”

The thunderstorms which ruined Monday’s play had blessedly taken their leave on Tuesday and the galleries enjoyed a full day’s play.

After the monsoon-like conditions McIlroy is hopeful that the course will dry out by the first round.

“It definitely played softer today, will probably play soft tomorrow, but by the time Thursday comes, they have the SubAir under the greens, the course should be in great shape and it should be firm again,” the Northern Irishman said.

“I’d like to see that, because, soft conditions seem to see the field bunch up. So firmer greens and firmer conditions definitely separates it, which is a good thing.”

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