The youngest professional on the British Tour, Mick Fitzgerald, started driving golf balls at the age of three. His mother was driving him in his first year at secondary school and, coming up to three or four years at that stage, he had begun having a go. When he started on the course on the school holiday, he took a couple of threes every so often and just fell in love with the game. He also remembers liking going out to the practice area. It was a lot of the tree snatches, at 13 they were in an area about 1,200 yards out. He could hit the ball 350 yards.
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He had little experience of his mum seeing him playing. As a six-year-old, she accompanied him to an amateur tournament in Exeter. In the bar afterwards, when he started to talk to the local guys, his mum looked at him and said, “He’s throwing up in his mouth”. She could see he was making a lot of mistakes, but in time he got better and better.
I would say that when he played in a British senior tournament in 1977 – at Gothenburg, which is now the Volvo golf course – everyone had never seen such a smart golfer. He was always a little bit thinking, rather than just hitting the ball, and certainly his ball flight was shaped differently, out of the normal stance, closer to downswing.
The other thing he had was dedication. If he didn’t like his swing, he was not going to play – unless he got in trouble. And that’s very difficult in a game where there’s so much faking. And if he was injured, the problem was worse. He just had to play in the right way.
Mick Fitzgerald is now the longest-tenured captain on the European Tour, having taken charge of the Czech Republic at the 2009 and 2014 Ryder Cups. Currently, he is European Ryder Cup team assistant captain to Thomas Bjørn, who will lead the European team at this month’s match at Le Golf National.