Frittelli chills out, enjoys John Deere Classic win

SILVIS,Ill . – All week, players were melting in the heat. And all week, South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli wore his long compression sleeves, which he said cooled him off.

What kept him so cool under pressure was another matter.

Maintaining his composure from start to finish in the biggest round of his life, first-year PGA TOUR member Frittelli shot a final-round 64 to win the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run, dramatically altering his summer plans, and beyond. FedExCup No. 153 at the start of the week, he shot up to 48th in the FedExCup and secured his job on TOUR through the 2020-21 season.

He also gate-crashed The Open Championship, and also earned invitations to next year’s Masters Tournament and THE PLAYERS Championship, among other select events.

“It was mentality clarity,” Frittelli said, when asked to explain the difference at the Deere.

With his attention divided and his career flagging, the 29-year-old with the prescription glasses found himself feeling stressed as this season wore on. His European Tour membership was running out, and he found himself in danger of losing his PGA TOUR card, too. That would mean going back to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, where nothing is guaranteed except for the fact that it would preclude his playing in some big overseas events.

The clock was ticking, and Frittelli had to find a way to tune it out. Enter sports psychologist Jay Brunza, who helped Frittelli finally accept that he couldn’t affect outcomes, at least not positively, by obsessing over them. When he three-putted the 14th hole after driving the green Sunday, he not only forced himself to slow down and not overreact, he smiled.

“I think I was the only one on the course who smiled after a three-putt,” he said.

He was focused on the positives: He was in the hunt to win, the sun on his back, people cheering. He made a clutch birdie at the par-5 17th, where he played his third shot well past the pin only to watch as it rolled off the backboard and toward the pin, just as he’d anticipated. He made the ensuing 11-footer for birdie and a two-shot lead as he played the tricky 18th hole.

He hit what he called his best drive of the week on the finisher, and made a routine, two-putt par.

“His attitude,” said his caddie, John Curtis, when asked what he first noticed about Frittelli when they joined forces two and a half years ago. “He’s so level-headed. He hardly ever gets punchy.”

Well, yes and no. Frittelli admitted it hasn’t always been easy, blinking back tears when talking about his caddie. “He’s been probably the rock in my career, coming from Europe,” Frittelli said. “He’s a great guy, wonderful man, very tough guy. He puts up with a lot of stuff from me.”

That they make a good team is somewhat surprising, given that Frittelli can’t see without his glasses – he also has a slight astigmatism in one eye – and Curtis is also sight-challenged.

“He’s pretty blind and I’m like half-blind,” Frittelli said with a laugh. “So we’re watching the ball going, ‘Where is it? Where is it? I can’t see it. Can you see it?’ We don’t know where it is.”

In addition to the other perks of winning, Frittelli put himself in the running to make Ernie Els’ International Presidents Cup team that will play the Americans at Royal Melbourne, Dec. 12-15.

“That’s huge,” he said. “And I’ve done well in Australia before. I lost in a playoff at the Aussie PGA.”

How cool was Frittelli? After his third-round 65 at TPC Deere Run, he went to the range to work on his wedges under a broiling sun. He was the only player there, and stayed for two hours.

“But it was all worth it, huh?” said Curtis. He gave the winner his final marching orders Sunday. “On the practice range I said, ‘It’s just a practice round today. Let’s go out and have fun.’”

If Frittelli’s newfound chill helped, so, too, did the fact that he’s no stranger to winning. He has done it at every level, and played alongside Jordan Spieth on the 2012 University of Texas team that won the NCAA Championship. Prior to that, he considered turning pro in cricket and field hockey.

He was good at everything, so much so that it drove Spieth crazy.

“We used to play Ping-Pong in the locker room,” Frittelli said, “and I would beat him four games in a row. … He wouldn’t let me leave until he beat me. He has had a burning desire. I don’t really have that. I’m more methodical and I’m more thoughtful in what I do.”

Professional success came quickly for only one of them, though, and it wasn’t Frittelli. He won on the European Challenge Tour in 2013 and 2016, but suffered through a slump in 2014-15. He bounced back with two European Tour victories in 2017, boosting his world ranking enough to start to get into the majors and World Golf Championship events.

His career stalled, though, on the PGA TOUR. He made six cuts in 11 starts last season and played in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, finishing 18th on the money list to secure his TOUR status for this season. He had made 13 of 19 cuts in 2018-19, but a best of T18 at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship wasn’t much to write home about.

Nevertheless, Frittelli kept it light at the Deere, as life-changing as it might be. He said of his 5 o’clock shadow after the third round that he’d seen pictures of Spieth looking similarly scruffy winning his first TOUR title at the 2013 Deere, and figured he would try the same thing.

And then, for the final round, Frittelli shaved. When it was all over, and he’d won and was about to go on TV for his media obligations, he asked Curtis, “Do I look pretty?”

They were about to board a chartered flight to The Open Championship with 13 other players and their caddies, and the FedExCup Playoffs awaited after that.

Very pretty, indeed.