By Tony Jimenez
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) - Eight months after chasing Ryder Cup veteran Sergio Garcia for an autograph like a hero-worshipping adolescent, Matt Fitzpatrick goes into this week's team event as the youngest of the 24 players on view.
The 22-year-old Englishman acknowledges his debut appearance in the greatest rivalry in golf has come a lot earlier than he thought it would but he is excited to be involved as Europe look to beat the United States for the fourth edition in a row.
"Sergio this year signed a ball for me when I played with him in Qatar," Fitzpatrick told a news conference at Hazeltine National on Wednesday.
"He was giving one out to a little kid and I was like 'I'll have one of those if you've got one spare'.
"I was also lucky enough to play with Rory McIlroy at the 2014 U.S. Masters and he signed my yardage book. Same goes for (vice-captain) Ian Poulter," said Fitzpatrick.
"These are the guys I've looked up to since I was young, looking for autographs when I went to tournaments as a fan, and now I'm playing in the same team with them. For me, it's pretty cool."
Fitzpatrick qualified for the Masters by virtue of his victory at the 2013 U.S. Amateur Championship.
He validated his reputation as one of the rising talents of world golf when he completed a wire-to-wire win at the 2015 British Masters before bagging his second European Tour title at the Nordea Masters in Sweden in June.
"My plan was always to get here, it's just happened a lot sooner than I thought it would," Fitzpatrick said of his first taste of the Ryder Cup.
"I've already had a few comments about my age but I'm used to it. It's exciting to be here and I'm really looking forward to the week."
The fresh-faced Fitzpatrick, who could easily pass for a 17-year-old, is one of six rookies in Europe's side.
"I'd love to play but it's not about me, at the end of the day it's about the team," he said.
"I'd rather not play until Sunday if the team wins. That's the most important thing and that's what we are all here for."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)