Dylan Frittelli, a former star of American collegiate golf, makes his first professional appearance in the USA at this week’s US PGA Championship. In his blog, the European Tour winner talks about his former team-mate Jordan Spieth’s ping pong skills, life in Austin, Texas and explains quantum physics…
This is actually my first professional tournament in America since graduating from college in 2012. I haven’t played a tournament here so it’s a huge opportunity, but it’s also like a homecoming for me. That’s how I’m looking at it. I lived in the USA for four years in college in Austin, Texas and on and off since then. I spend typically between one and three months in Austin in my downtime and I’ve been practicing for the past two weeks there, on the Bermuda grass just getting used to the conditions and time-zone and all that. I definitely feel like the USA is where my future lies, where I will live. South Africa is obviously a special place and it’s where my family lives so I will always go back there for a few months every year, but Austin is home for me right now. It’s great to finally get a go here, it’s been five years in the making but hopefully I can make up for lost time and play well this week. I’ve got my mum here, a friend from Buffalo is here, and another friend from Tennessee is flying in. I also have a friend coming in who is an Olympic Gold Medallist swimmer, Ricky Berens. He was on Michael Phelps’ relay team, and I’ve got to know him a lot more since graduating after we only had one year together in college. He’s a cool guy and from Charlotte so that’s cool. I told him he needs to find me a wife this week in Charlotte! We’re going to go to the Carolina Panthers NFL warm up game against Houston Texans but to be honest I probably won’t go out much other than that.
I’m staying in a sweet house on the 15th hole here this week. I’ve got a friend from Houston who knows the guy, a South African. I’ve basically got a whole pool house to myself – a pool house which is the same as a normal house. It’s a really good setup with a nice gym downstairs and obviously a pool too!
I did well at The Open not to get caught up in the amazing big grandstands and the big players and all that stuff. I just tried to keep a low profile on the practice days and get all my work done. I had really good preparation for it and honestly, I played well in the two rounds I played. I just had the tough end of the draw and came close in the end but didn’t make the cut. The cool thing was, I realised ‘hey it’s just another golf tournament’. It’s the top players in the world and the course setup is a little different, tougher than most, but I still feel like I dealt with the first experience well. There were nerves on the first tee, getting that away was pretty tricky – I backed away twice before I pulled the trigger – but I felt pretty solid after that so this week will be a bit easier I think.
Austin is an awesome place to live. The guys that I’ve spoken to that played there loved it. Chris Wood, Bernd Wiesberger and a few others were just mentioning all the things they did in town. You’ve got great nightlife, great live music, three big events there every year – the Formula One, Austin City Limits Music Festival and South by Southwest – so for me it’s one of the best cities in the world, if not the best. I’m sure I’m a bit biased because I went to the University of Texas, but the only thing that could make it better would be a beach where I could surf.
My music taste is pretty mainstream, I listen to a lot of hip-hop and pop music. I haven’t been to any of those music festivals in Austin yet but all of my friends pick up all of these cool new bands a year or two before they go mainstream, so I get a little bit of stuff from them that I’ll listen to, but I’m not a crazy hipster or anything!
Jordan Spieth is a good friend but we don’t stay in touch too often. When we’re in town in Austin or when I’m in Dallas I give him a shout. When I saw him at The Open he just seemed really calm and relaxed, so I’m not surprised that he played so well that week. I’m sure there’s a bit of added pressure for him this week but he’s a consummate professional so he’ll be able to put his head down – his family is in town too, the whole clan, so I’m sure he’ll be able to stay out of the limelight and keep a low profile.
We all knew about him when he came to Texas. I was a senior and he was a freshman and when he came out he was the top recruit out of high school and had already won a couple of US Junior’s – so we knew he had that quality. I nicknamed him ‘Superstar’ when he came to Texas and that’s how we all saw it. But to say someone can go and do it, and for them to actually go and do it - win three Majors and ten US PGA Tour wins at the age of 24 - is crazy. I would have put money on him winning multiple Majors, for sure. But you could never say he would do what he’s done so far. He came out of high school and everyone knew he was the best recruit and he just had this mental strength. He has a solid all round game and his putting is some of the best I’ve ever seen, but his mind is what sets him apart. He’s not going to out-drive Dustin Johnson or hit iron shots better than Rory McIlroy. We would play ping-ping in our locker room and I’d beat him five or six times in a row and he would not leave the table until he finally won. Then when he’s beaten you he can move on. He’s intense beyond being intense when he’s in the heat of battle, it’s all-consuming. I don’t think I have that in me, trying to win all the time and setting goals, but he does and that’s his character and I guess that’s why he has so much fire and drive.
Initially my pro life started well, I won early on the Challenge Tour and played well in a few European Tour events. But I hit a bit of a slump after that. Scheduling was the real issue there – I went seven months in Europe without going back to Austin or South Africa. I really didn’t understand how to set my schedule and take weeks off and keep working out and practicing, so I lost a lot of practice that you would get in the off-season. Then the game started sliding and in the big tournaments at the end of the Challenge Tour season, I didn’t want to take those off so it went badly. Then you have to dig yourself out of that and build up a bunch of practice hours over a year or two. I’m kind of glad that it happened early on. It would be ideal not to have to deal with a slump like that but I’m sure everyone goes through that at some stage in their career, whether it’s scheduling issues or losing your swing, and I’m glad I got through it so early.
If you go back 365 days, I was category 17 on the Challenge Tour, which doesn’t even get you many events on that tour. Then I won the Rolex Trophy in the middle of the season and that all but guaranteed my European Tour card. Roll forward a year, I’ve played in a Major, playing another one this week, I’m top 100 in the world and I’ve won on the European Tour. To do that in 365 days is pretty amazing, I do have to step back and appreciate that sometimes.
I tried to look at it philosophically when I got beaten in two play-offs on the European Tour. Especially at the Volvo China Open, having such a big lead and Alex Levy beating me, maybe people were thinking I couldn’t get the job done but I got some bad breaks on the back nine. I got two really awkward lies and I thought maybe this is the golfing gods just telling me to wait a little bit, you don’t need to win just yet. There have been people down the years who win early on and think they’re world beaters and before you know it they’ve lost their game. I’m of the opinion that I’m going to have a long career, it’s about checking the boxes and working towards the next big tournament and taking a slow rise and hopefully staying at the top for a while.
In my first year on the Challenge Tour I saw 16 new countries that I’d never been to, so that was really cool. Last season, I did 12 tournaments in a row where I was pretty much in all corners of the globe. I haven’t done Antarctica yet, not sure if there are any course there, but I’ve done everywhere else! People say I’m so lucky to be a professional golfer for all the money but the main thing I enjoy is travelling, seeing the world. The European Tour is great too, having courtesy cars and just a great set-up makes life a lot easier. I’m certainly enjoying it. I don’t know any other sports where you can just rub shoulder with the sponsors and the fans, with huge business people, politicians. So many people are drawn to golf, I don’t know the reasons but we’re in a fortunate position. The guy I’m staying with this week said I don’t know how lucky I am to be in a position meeting these people – he suggested I set up a LinkedIn profile!
I signed up for an introductory class in quantum physics a couple of years ago. It was one of those online free university things, just to keep my mind going. I’m not going to say I know anything about it, but it’s a dumbed down version of what you would learn at University. It interests me and takes my mind off the golf. There are not too many things that take my mind off it, so I’m always looking to find new ways to do that. It’s pretty confusing stuff, all time and space. There are a few analogies that are simple – take a train that is travelling along the tracks. You have people inside the train and people outside the train. If you switch a light bulb on in the middle of the train and you have someone one end of the train and another person the other end of the train, equidistant from the bulb. Technically the light is going to reach both of them at the same time, right? But someone outside of the train looking at this, to them that train is moving along the tracks – the person sees that light go on and technically the train moves forward so the light moving forward with that train is going to be moving faster to the person at the front than the person on the back. It’s all about perspective. Which one is correct? Is the light travelling to each person on the train at the same time, or has is reached the person at the front first because the train travelled in that direction? The answer is there is no answer! They’re both true, it’s just about perspective. Stuff like that is mind-boggling and that’s even on a very simplistic level. I was just bored on the Challenge Tour, got my laptop out and found something. I’m always trying to grow and learn, whether it’s business or academia. I studied geography in college, nothing special but I always knew golf was going to be my profession. I worked well in my academics, I was an All American both years I was eligible to get it.
I surf too. I’m from Johannesburg but we used to go down to Durban up until I was about 11 or 12 when I started playing provincial soccer, baseball, golf and hockey. Before that I was on the beach pretty much every day and used to boogey-board a lot. When I was 17 or 18 I figured I might try surfing out, I was a bit stronger in the water. Again it’s just about taking my mind off golf and it’s a good work-out too to stay fit. I’ve heard Rafa Cabrera Bello is really good but I’ve never surfed with him. I’m a solid 15 to 18 handicap surfer!