Dylan Frittelli transforms career with one compelling round

Dylan Frittelli of South Africa celebrates with the trophy after winning the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run on July 14, 2019 in Silvis, Illinois. Andy Lyons/Getty Images/AFP

The 29-year-old South African’s magnificent win at the John Deere Classic pales in significance to what it means for his future.

South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli shot a final round seven-under 64 to win his maiden PGA Tour event at the John Deere by two shots in Illinois on Sunday.

Frittelli’s 21-under total was two ahead of his nearest challenger – American Russell Henley.

For his efforts, Frittelli won a whopping R15 061 741.

Maintaining his composure from start to finish in the biggest round of his life, first-year PGA Tour member Frittelli dramatically altering his summer plans, and beyond.

FedExCup (season long points list) No 153 at the start of the week, he shot up to 48th in the FedExCup and secured his job on the PGA 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, December 12 to 15.

“That’s huge,” he said. “And I’ve done well in Australia before. I lost in a play-off 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.’”

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