Like so many his age, Matthew Fitzpatrick grew up idolizing Tiger Woods. One can imagine, then, how excited the young Brit was to be paired with the greatest player of his generation at the 2017 Dubai Desert Classic.
It, uh, didn't go as planned. Woods was near the nadir of his back issues and pulled out after a disheartening first-round 77. He'd undergo perhaps the most famous surgery in sports history—his spinal fusion—two months later, which started his unlikely road back to eventually winning the Masters in 2019.
But after Woods withdrew in the Middle East, Fitzpatrick thought there was a good chance he'd go down in the record books for a less-than-awesome reason.
"I thought I was gonna be the last guy ever to play with Tiger Woods," Fitzpatrick said on this week's edition of the Golf Digest Podcast (50:14). "I was really excited. No offense Tiger."
He continued: "He was struggling at that point. Also, I think people also forget, particularly that week—he literally flew from LA to Dubai, which is a minimum 16 hours flight. That can't be healthy. It was a pretty crazy day. Only got one day with him...I never saw it, but he was getting out of a bunker on the first hole of the day, and he sort of dragged himself out of the bunker. And I think people could tell."
Spoiler alert: Fitzpatrick wasn't the last player ever to play with Tiger. In fact, he got the chance to tee it up with Woods again at last year's Players, just a month or so before he won major No. 15 at Augusta. Safe to say it was a different experience.
"His irons were unbelievable. He had one shot in Dubai that I was like, that's the Tiger everyone knows. He hit this one shot, hold up in a right to left wind, it was unbelievable. And then he basically did it all day Sunday the Players.
"Billy Foster is on my bag, and he caddied for Tiger once at the Presidents Cup, and he knows him very well. I remember him saying walking off 18—he calls him 'Tig' for some reason—he said 'Tig, your game is really, really close. Just sharpen up a few things and you're not far off."
Not far off indeed.
Please have a listen to our extended chat with Fitzpatrick, as well as our conversation about golf's place amid the coronavirus crisis.