Dylan Frittelli is South Africa’s fastest rising golf star and a stellar 2017 has seen him zoom up the world golf rankings from No 152 at the start of the year to 55th when he teed it up at the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club this week.
The 27-year-old can certainly hit a little white dimpled ball as cleanly and powerfully as anyone else in the country, courtesy of the natural ball skills that saw him earn junior provincial colours in baseball, soccer, hockey and golf; but Frittelli clearly has another great strength – one that is as priceless as a Ming vase when it comes to a sport as mentally taxing as golf.
Frittelli is clearly a deep thinker of the game and much of that thinking can be classified as lateral judging by the unusual decisions he has made.
Golf started as a Sunday driving range occupation with his provincial hockey-playing father, with a few rounds with friends over the holidays, but at the age of 11, Frittelli went to a World of Golf camp where his considerable talent was first spotted by a coach.
“From then I took things seriously, but I still played a bunch of sports until I was 15,” Frittelli said.
It was when the Johannesburg-born youngster went to St Albans boarding school in Pretoria that he made his first eccentric decision that worked out wonderfully.
“At St Albans, I asked the headmaster if I could just play golf and he said no, because they needed me in the cricket and hockey teams. So I did home-schooling instead, it was a bit of a mad scientist idea and I just said ‘let’s see what happens’. I started matric in Grade 10 and was done a year earlier than if I’d stayed in school,” Frittelli explained.
The tall, dark-haired Frittelli continues to do things differently to this day, foregoing time-consuming and often energy-draining practice rounds on courses he has played before, and even taking a compass on to the tee with him to ensure he gets his angles dead right.
The extra year he gained through home-schooling allowed Frittelli to not only play more golf but also seriously consider trying to get into the American college golf programme.
“I had it in mind that I really wanted to go to the United States and when I won the Junior World Championships in San Diego when I was 17, that opened doors for me. It was between the universities of Texas and Arkansas, and Texas offered me a full scholarship,” he said.
And, by a quirk of fate, a young Jordan Spieth soon also arrived at the University of Texas and he and Frittelli would earn the Longhorns – their first national championship title in 40 years in 2012, the South African sinking a 30-foot putt on the 18th to claim the win.
“Jordan was still a junior then, but I stayed in the same dorm as him at the Spirit International and helped persuade him to come to Texas. We were pretty much playing at the same level back then and to make the putt to win nationals was huge, especially since we hadn’t won for so long,” Frittelli said.
He has won twice on the European Tour this year and – although his chances of adding to that tally at the Joburg Open are slim as he ended his second round 10 shots off the pace – Frittelli looks set to break into the top-50 in the world rankings in the near future.
And then he will be going to the majors, from which he hopes to get into the US PGA Tour, especially since he still has a house in Austin, Texas. Frittelli also badly wants to win in South Africa, to show local fans – who have not had much chance to get to know him – what he’s made of.
“I’ve only gained spots through qualifying school on the European and Sunshine tours but I would love to play in the US as well. I also haven’t had any big victories in South Africa, which I would love to do because that would definitely cement my standing here,” the laid-back surfing fan said.
“But I pride myself on being able to play well away from home and I won in Canada, the US and Puerto Rico as an amateur, and now in Europe and Mauritius as a pro. Every good result you get breeds confidence and I felt really calm winning in Mauritius last week, which is how you want to be. No stress.”