Heading into 2022 three trends were overwhelmingly apparent in the career of Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick.
The first was that he had outgrown the DP World Tour. As with all European golfers, he would always return to his home circuit for the big tournaments, but it was clear that his game needed to be regularly tested at the highest level.
His last 30 starts in regular DP World Tour events, up to the end of 2021, had reaped nine top two finishes, three of them victories. It was stellar golf but its quality also shone a light on the second career pattern: his inability to win on the PGA Tour.
And that bled into the third: his unusually poor record in the Major Championships.
In fact, ahead of New Year 2022 he had just one top 10, and not one top five, in 27 starts in the tournaments that define a golfer's career.
Maybe even more critical was his failure to contend because Major winners (with only a handful of exceptions) have recent experience of being in the top six at the weekend in Majors and the Yorkshireman's career-best 54-hole position had been T13th at the 2021 PGA Championship.
None of which should distract from the truth that Fitzpatrick, now signed up with clothing brand Castore, was still an exceptional golfer. Rather it was a riddle that must have infuriated him much more than onlookers.
Before we look at his response to that puzzle, let's start at the beginning and trace the rise of the 27-year-old to Major Champion level.
Potential and ruthlessness
Although he won the 2012 Boys Amateur Championship and the Silver Medal for finishing as the low amateur at the 2013 Open, there were two key episodes in Fitzpatrick's career ahead of joining the pro ranks.
The first was his victory in the 2013 US Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, just a second English triumph in the championship's history, and the second was his decision to drop out of Northwestern University after just one quarter. The former confirmed his potential, the latter a ruthlessness that belied his youthful looks.
A head for heights
Just over a year after turning pro Fitzpatrick won the 2015 British Masters at Woburn and, after adding the Nordea Masters the following season, he qualified to represent Europe at the Ryder Cup.
He was also proving that he had a head for heights in more ways than one.
Literally, he became a two-time winner of the European Masters in the Swiss Alps in 2017 and 2018.
Metaphorically, he also landed the DP World Tour Championship on two occasions, in 2016 and 2020. Played on a long layout, against an elite field, for the biggest prize of the circuit's season, those wins seemed to prove that he had the game to thrive at the highest level.
And yet the failure to transfer those high-quality performances to the Majors was an on-going frustration and his second Ryder Cup appearance in late 2021 didn't allay the fears when it left him with the unwanted record of five defeats from five matches played.
Stacking up the positives
Fitzpatrick's 2021 season was not a disappointment, but it was rather like his career in microcosm.
He won the Andalucia Masters in Spain, and finished second in both the Scottish Open and the DP World Tour Championship. But he failed to reach the final stages of the FedExCup Playoffs in America and, although he made the cut in all four Majors, he didn't record a top 20 in any of them.
The first hint of change came in his schedule: for the first time in his professional career he didn't open his year on the DP World Tour. Instead, he committed to the PGA Tour.
There was an immediate change in his fortunes. Ahead of 2022 he'd landed 10 top 10s in 65 PGA Tour starts (not including the Open and WGC). Before teeing it up in US Open he had added another seven top 10s in 11 2022 starts.
He had also started hitting the ball greater distances from the tee aided by a speed stick called 'The Stack' of which he said: "It's worked wonders." Crucially, he also added: "It gives me confidence going into the next shot knowing that you've got less club into the greens and it's quite nice when you're hitting it past people."
Early in the year he also signed up with clothing innovators Castore whose 'Better never stops' ethos was a neat fit and added further momentum to the year.
The win remained stubbornly elusive, but strides were being made.
In the past he has never ended a season ranked top 25 for more than two Strokes Gained category; this season he ranked top 25 for all six of them.
He was T14th at the Masters, his best effort there since his pro debut in 2016. Crucially he spent all week at the PGA Championship in the top 10 and for the first time in his career went to bed on the Saturday night contemplating a life-changing Sunday.
He had been second with 18 holes to play and contended throughout the final round before finishing in a share of fifth - a career-best Major performance.
In his final start before the third Major of the year he finished T10th at the Canadian Open, gaining five strokes on the field from the tee for the first time in his career.
And the location of the US Open? The Country Club in Brookline - scene of his victory in the US Amateur.
US Open Glory
After getting off to a solid start, Fitzpatrick tied the 54-hole lead and then closed out the breakthrough win with a final round of 68, denying a high-quality quintet behind him on the leaderboard that included Will Zalatoris plus Major winners Scottie Scheffler, Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa.
He also joined Jack Nicklaus as the only male golfer to win the US Amateur and US Open on the same layout.
"I love playing this golf course," he said. "It suits my game and I feel so comfortable here."
Did he feel like it was fate to win there again? "I've been playing well for a while," he said. "And I think it all just fell into place that this was the place it was going to happen. For whatever reason, because of my success here before, it just felt like this was the time."
Fate or destiny are good stories and easy to tell.
But hard work, resilience and the determination to never stop improving? They are cold realities that are difficult to maintain.
Last week, though, they were rewarded.
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