Former Texas All-American Dylan Frittelli plays his shot from the third tee during the second round of The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National on Friday. (Rob Schumacher/USA Today)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Dylan Frittelli, ‘the other Longhorn,’ hanging close to Masters leaders

Posted November 13th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • In his just his second time to compete on the course after missing the cut in 2018, the long, lanky Frittelli scorched Augusta National with a first-round 65 that he completed on Friday but then bogeyed three of the first four holes in the next round before rallying to finish at 1-over 73.
  • That mixed bag puts him at a solid 6-under par for the tournament, which left him in a big clump tied for 14th and three strokes behind four co-leaders world’s No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 3 Justin Thomas, Australia’s Cameron Smith and Mexico's Abraham Ancer out of Odessa Junior College and Oklahoma all at 9-under par.
  • But 18 players are within three shots of the lead, and three-time champion Phil Mickelson sits at 5-under. Interestingly, only one of the 18 has ever worn the green jacket, that belonging to Danny Willett who ran down Jordan Spieth in 2016 when the Longhorn had a memorable quadruple bogey at No. 12.

One lazy day in the spring of his junior year at Texas, Dylan Frittelli was lounging around at the Austin apartment he shared with UT backup placekicker Travis Smith when the two engaged in some carefree banter.

They were discussing Frittelli’s season when Smith asked how he thought he was playing.

“Pretty good,” the mellow South Africa native replied. “I’ve had a top-10 finish, a top-20. Had a 25th, then a 12th, so pretty good.”

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His good friend listened attentively and incredulously, then abruptly challenged Frittelli.

“Pretty good? Dylan, are you listening to yourself?” Smith asked. “That sounds pretty mediocre to me. Is that what you want to be? You tell me you don’t want to be mediocre, then why are you telling me you’re doing OK?”

Frittelli took the advice to heart, committing to a stronger work ethic in his game. He began practicing harder and longer. His coach, John Fields, said Frittelli began to “practice more with a purpose and held himself more accountable.”

Dylan Frittelli looks over his putt on the 7th green during the continuation of the first round of The Masters early Friday. He’s three strokes behind the tournament leaders heading into Saturday. (Rob Schumacher/USA Today)

And the 30-year-old former Longhorns All-American decided not to settle, instead pouring himself into his game to the point that he finds himself in the hunt for the biggest golf prize in the sport at the (almost) halfway point of the Masters.

In just his second time to compete on the course after missing the cut in 2018, the long, lanky Frittelli scorched Augusta National with a first-round 65 that he completed on Friday, then bogeyed three of the first four holes in the next round before rallying to finish at 1-over 73.

That mixed bag puts him at a solid 6-under par for the tournament, which left him in a big clump tied for 14th and three strokes behind four co-leaders — world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 3 Justin Thomas, Australia’s Cameron Smith and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer out of Odessa Junior College and Oklahoma, all at 9-under.

But 18 players are within three shots of the lead, and three-time champion Phil Mickelson sits at 5-under. Interestingly, only one of the 18 has ever worn the green jacket, that belonging to Danny Willett, who ran down Jordan Spieth in 2016 when the Texas ex had a memorable quadruple bogey at No. 12.

“I fought hard my last nine to stay in contention,” Dylan Frittelli said on Friday. “Obviously I’ve got a shot, so who knows what might happen? I’m definitely the underdog in the field, but I’ll give it a go and see if I can ruffle some feathers.” (Chris Carlson/The Associated Press)

“It was basically a tale of three nines,” Frittelli said in a phone interview after his 27 holes on Friday. “My first nine was pretty good. I played really nicely. My middle nine was not so hot, and my third nine was pretty even and average.”

Augusta National hasn’t had its normal growl because of soft conditions helped by the rain and kind greens and less pressure because of no fans. But Bryson DeChambeau has melted down, and Tiger Woods’ charge after an opening 68 was stalled by a bogey and a 3-putt. He remains at 4-under.

And the golfers still understand it can bite back at any moment.

“I think it’s taken me a little bit to get over, I guess, maybe the fear of Augusta National,” said Thomas, a PGA champion who said he once played Augusta in 2012 with his Alabama team. “It’s going to play different every year. I kind of go back to that round (in 2012) and say, ‘Dude, remember you made six birdies when you were a freshman in college. I would hope you’d be able to handle it in your fifth appearance now.’”

Getting over one’s anxiety on the most famous golf course in the world is easier said than done. And many had to complete their first rounds suspended by darkness Thursday, as did Frittelli.

“I fought hard my last nine to stay in contention,” Frittelli said. “Obviously I’ve got a shot, so who knows what might happen? I’m definitely the underdog in the field, but I’ll give it a go and see if I can ruffle some feathers.”

Jordan Spieth prepares for his tee shot off the 10th tee as the sun sets during the second round of The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National on Friday. (Rob Schumacher/USA Today)

He’s more than long enough, has improved his short game with short-game guru Chuck Cook of Austin and has steady nerves. If anything, he’s been too chill because a sports psychologist once told him he was almost too calm. He once called himself “the antithesis of Jordan Spieth.”

Spieth will remain in Augusta for the weekend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has made the cut. On the contrary, he’s never gotten in a groove at the course this year after winning the 2015 Masters and never finishing lower than 21st. In fact, his college coach, John Fields, said before this year’s Masters that “when he comes here, it’s like spinach for Popeye.”

He’ll need some more of that strength tonic because he currently sits at even par and in a tie for 50th, right at the cutline.

Masters rookie Scottie Scheffler left the course at 3-under par after a day with an eagle on the par-5 No. 2 hole and back-to-back bogeys on 6 and 7. A birdie on 12 steadied him for the weekend.

For all that Spieth has accomplished — winning three majors before he was 24, and a serious contender for all of his six previous Masters — and for all that Scheffler has done in bursting upon the scene as the PGA Tour rookie of the year with seven top-10 finishes, Frittelli is the other Longhorn this week. No, not that one. The other, other Longhorn.

Even Frittelli has joked that he’s known as “Jordan Spieth’s teammate.”

But damn good at golf nonetheless.

Frittelli has won only once on the PGA Tour, claiming the John Deere Classic in 2019 to earn an automatic bid to this year’s Masters, but he has excelled elsewhere in Europe and Asia and has risen from 190th to 100th in the world since 2018 by incorporating a draw into this game and getting much stronger through a rigorous conditioning program.

Fields isn’t surprised by Frittelli’s emergence on the big stage. When Frittelli was a senior and Spieth a freshman, they ranked 1-2 in the Longhorns’ pecking order. It was the ultra-calm Frittelli who hit the clinching 28-foot putt against Alabama to win the national championship in 2012 at Riviera Country Club.

That NCAA field included all sorts of studs, from Spieth and Frittelli to Thomas to UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay to Cal’s Max Homa, all of whom are competing in this Masters. Thomas is one of the four co-leaders while Cantlay sits one back at 8-under.

“Every time Jordan would come off the golf course in college,” Fields said, “he would ask, ‘How did Dylan play?’ He wanted to beat Dylan so bad. He always thought, ‘If I can beat Dylan, I’m going to win this golf tournament.’“

Kind of how the unflappable Frittelli feels about Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas and all the others.

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