Matt Fitzpatrick, the 28-year-old pride of Sheffield, England, had himself a year. His crowning achievement, of course, was his U.S. Open triumph at The Country Club, where he sealed the deal with one of the nerviest bunker shots any golfer has ever faced. That week in Boston represented Fitzpatrick’s only win in 2022, but he did rack up another nine top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, finished no worse than T21 in the four majors and tagged on a runner-up finish on the DP World Tour (at the Italian Open). He will finish the year as the 9th-ranked player in the world.
Fitzpatrick’s output was not, however, enough to earn him one of the six nominations for the BBC’s 2022 Sports Personality of the Year award — basically the Oscars or Grammies for U.K. athletes. He was beat out by soccer star Beth Mead, who, at Euro 2022, led England to its first major women’s football title; cricketer Ben Stokes; Winter Olympics curling gold medalist Eve Muirhead; snooker world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan; gymnast Jessica Gadirova; and runner Jake Wightman. (Earlier this week, Mead was named the winner.)
This writer, given his limited knowledge of the U.K. sports landscape, won’t pretend to know if Fitzpatrick was any more or less deserving than the half-dozen sportsmen and women who did get the nod. But Fitzpatrick’s absence from the shortlist did draw the ire of more than a few British golfers.
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“One question @BBCSport @BBCSPOTY What about @MattFitz94 and his @usopengolf win this year?? tweeted Justin Rose, who himself was shortlisted for the award in 2013 in the wake of his U.S. Open win.
One of the harshest rebukes came from longtime BBC SPOTY critic Ian Poulter.
“Sorry but complete disregard for @MattFitz94 makes this event a continued farce and joke,” tweeted Poulter, whose BBC beef dates back to at least 2012 when the winning European Ryder Cup team was beat out for the BBC’s Team of the Year award by the U.K. Olympic and Paralympic teams. “I experienced first hand how much of a joke this was 10 years ago. Promised myself then I’d never waste time attending or watching again.”
Stop tweeting about it, though? Not so much.
Even SPOTY’s own presenter, soccer great-turned-broadcaster Gary Lineker, appeared mystified by Fitzpatrick’s omission. On the eve of the awards show, he tweeted this:
When asked by GOLF.com about the critiques, the BBC’s press office did not immediately respond.
Fitzpatrick himself never seemed to like his chances for the award. His management team told The Telegraph last month that Fitzpatrick had “politely” declined an invite to the ceremony — regardless of whether he was nominated.
If SPOTY nominations for golfers have been hard to come by, wins have been even rarer. Since the award’s conception in 1954 just two golfers have been feted with the honor: Dai Rees in 1957 and Nick Faldo in 1989. Even Rory McIlroy’s two-major-win season in 2014 wasn’t good enough for the top spot; he finished second behind Formula 1 racer Lewis Hamilton.
So, how is the award even decided? According to the BBC’s official terms and conditions, “an expert independent panel” convene in November to determine the nominees; the panel is comprised of “representatives from the world of sport” and chaired by Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport. The panel select nominees on three criteria:
“Reflects UK sporting achievements on the national and/or international stage; represents the breadth and depth of UK sports; and takes into account ‘impact’ of the person’s sporting achievement beyond the sport in question.”
Fitzpatrick’s U.S. Open win inarguably checked the first two boxes. How much “impact” it had beyond the world of golf is debatable, but presumably the same could be said for, say, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s snooker exploits (and that is no dig at O’Sullivan!).
“The Panel will produce a shortlist based on reaching a consensus view,” the terms and conditions continue. “If a consensus view cannot be reached on all or some of the candidates, then the Panel are asked to vote for the remaining candidates. In the event of a tied vote, the chairperson’s decision (Director, BBC Sport) is binding.”
The SPOTY winner, it’s important to note, is determined not by the committee but by the public, which casts its votes via web and phone during the awards show.
Fitzpatrick, for his part, appears to be taking the SPOTY hullabaloo in stride. On the eve of this week’s ceremony, he tweeted, “2022, a year I’ll never forgot. A year that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my family, friends and team. Here’s to more success in 2023!!”
And who knows, maybe, just maybe…a SPOTY nomination.