Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Dylan Frittelli’s travels now bring him back to Austin for the Dell Match Play

Posted March 19th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Dylan Frittelli ranked 190th in world last year and watched Dell tourney as spectator but competes as 45th ranked golfer this week.
  • Texas coach John Fields raves about his former national champion golfer but says he sometimes "overanalyzes things."
  • Frittelli jokes that he's known as "Jordan Spieth's teammate but I hope to change that and someday be his co-teammate."

Dylan Frittelli is going places.

Of course, he’s already been a lot of places.

India. Kenya. Austria. Turkey. To name just a few.

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Try 45 different countries in a two-year span. No, he’s not a fugitive from the law. He’s a 27-year-old professional golfer who has wandered to all corners of the world from his home country of South Africa on different tours in Europe and Asia and just about anywhere else that has an 18-hole course. Yeah, he’s a golf gypsy, but he’s getting closer to putting down roots. Heck, he’s about to close on a duplex here in Austin.

Those journeys have matured this former three-time All-American at the University of Texas, not that he wasn’t already pretty wise when he arrived from Johannesburg in 2008 to play for the Longhorns.

“All our guys thought he was a 40-year-old guy playing college golf here,” Texas coach John Fields said. “He had a real maturity when he came to Austin.”

Frittelli returns here to his second home this week, not to renew acquaintances with friends and a city he loves, but to move into that duplex in Brentwood and mostly to compete in the World Golf Championship-Dell Match Play as the 45th-ranked golfer in the world and one of the game’s better ball-strikers.

Dylan Frittelli of South Africa plays from a bunker on the 17th hole during Day One of The BMW South African Open Championship at Glendower Golf Club on January 11, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

He may be new to this event, but he’s coming here to win. That’s not a boast, just a sign of the confidence of this six-year pro who has won two international tournaments in the last nine months, including one in December. Plus, he’s already played more than 50 rounds at the Austin Country Club, including a Monday practice round with Jordan Spieth.

“That’s the plan, right?” he said. “I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t figure to try to win the cup.”

Frittelli didn’t arrive to this point the conventional way. In fact, very little about his background has been by the book.

He didn’t receive formal golf training until after he was 11. He received recruiting interest from Arkansas and Texas after winning the Junior World Championship at San Diego’s Torrey Pines. He was first alerted to all things Longhorns by his uncle who was a music professor at Texas, then came here and starred alongside Jordan Spieth.

The two combined to win the 2012 national championship as Frittelli drained a 30-foot putt to cement the win over Justin Thomas’ Alabama team. “I’m (known as) Jordan’s teammate,” he said, laughing. “I hope to change that someday and be his co-teammate.”

While Spieth’s career took off immediately into the stratosphere with 11 wins and three majors, including the Masters in just his second try, and a No. 1 world ranking for 26 weeks, Frittelli toiled in obscurity. And relative poverty.

Well, he’d actually have a ways to go to even find obscurity. He played on as many continents as he could find, loved golfing on the Challenge Tour and European Tour before hitting rock bottom in 2014 and even briefly considered going back for his masters at Texas where he’d once posted a 3.40 GPA as a geography major.

Boy, did that degree plan work out. No one knows geography like Frittelli.

Back in 2012, then Texas senior Dylan Frittelli traveled to the NCAA Golf Championships. That included a practice round at the University of Texas golf course in Austin, Texas, on Friday, May 25, 2012. Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman

During his travels, he’s learned to not sleep on planes to avoid jet lag, figure out which foods to eat and which to avoid, how to save money by flying on low-cost airlines or riding on trains or sharing car rides. Try Kenya Airways, he said, with its new fleet of planes, super friendly attendants and, uh, plenty of empty rows for stretching out.

“I’ve got no idea how many frequent flier miles I have,” Frittelli said, “but I’m by far the most traveled guy on those tours.”

Only the top 15 guys on the European Tour can make enough to make a living, Frittelli said. Peter Uihlein, a former Oklahoma State Cowboy, started out there before winning his PGA card. And U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka really hit it big.

“He absolutely killed it,” Frittelli said of Koepka, the eighth-ranked golfer who is nursing a torn wrist tendon injury and won’t play at the Dell. “He won four tournaments and three of his first 10. He’s probably the poster child of the tour.”

Frittelli had his share of struggles before putting in the work, dealing with the mental side of the game and putting in hours and hours.

“I lost my game,” he said. “I didn’t know where the golf ball was going.”

But he came out of it and won a pair of international tournaments, the Lyoness Open and Mauritius Open. Of course, he’s always had to cope with the mental part of golf because he was, well, too smart and too logical for his own good.

Fields still remembers a college match-play tournament when Frittelli was facing his approach shot from 172 yards out and was wrestling with which club to use to get near the pin.

“He asked me, ‘Should I cut a 6-iron or should I hook an 8-iron or what?’ “ Fields recalled. “I said, ‘Dylan, just hit a 7-iron right at the flag.’ The funny thing is he’s very logical about things. But he has a tendency to over-analyze.”

Frittelli admits as much. As the winner of the Byron Nelson Award given to the top academic golfer in the nation, he overthinks a lot of things. But he’s also in tune with his surroundings. Fields said of all the players he’s ever had, “Dylan really, really, really enjoyed it. The whole college experience.”

Dylan Frittelli of South Africa in action during day four of the Maybank Championship Malaysia at Saujana Golf and Country Club on February 4, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)

He attended other Longhorns sporting events, visited incessantly with other Texas athletes and was a serious student. Sixth Street? He partied there, too. Twice. He was too serious for that.

That said, he’s always been a mellow, low-key personality, perhaps too low-key. In fact, sports psychologist Jay Brunza, who worked with Tiger Woods as well as for college teams like Texas, told Frittelli he was too relaxed. It’s almost always the other way around.

“I’m nice and chill,” Frittelli said. “I get in the heat of the battle, and it’s whatever happens, happens. I need a way to get fired up. Dr. Brunza said he’d never heard of that. He said I was almost too calm and a little bit of adrenaline is good.

“I’m a pretty relaxed guy. I’m the antithesis of Jordan Spieth.”

The two teammates would get worked up, at least, in their historic ping-pong battles. The relentlessly competitive Spieth wouldn’t let the games stop until he’d beaten Frittelli.

This week they’ll be on the same stage again as both fight to become the first Longhorn to win the Dell Match Play. Frittelli said the two text now and then, but cracks that Spieth changes his number every few months.

Barring some surprising finishes by other golfers, Frittelli will secure his first invitation to the Masters, along with current Longhorn Doug Ghim, so long as he hangs onto his top 50 golf ranking. That sure beats going to school to get his master’s.

“That’s huge,” said Frittelli, who still remembers the time Fields took the team to Augusta National after a tournament at Augusta State. “I walked around on a Monday in 2012. I was awestruck, really. By the undulations. The size of the trees. The grandstands. All of it.”

And in three weeks, he’ll be there again, but as a competitor. Yeah, he’s still going places.

Dell Match Play

Wednesday-Sunday, Austin Country Club

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