Frittelli roars from behind to win Deere

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Sunday, July 14, 2019 

Dylan Frittelli is not a scoreboard watcher, but on the PGA Tour, the big screens are everywhere.

Thus, while Frittelli knew he was playing well on Sunday at TPC Deere Run – six birdies in the first 11 holes and narely a bogey since Friday will give you that feeling – he didn’t know precisely where he stood.

Until, that is, he lined up his birdie putt on the par-5 17th, a putt that would move him to 21-under-par.

“I looked down the hill to read my putt, and there was a giant scoreboard behind the pit,” Frittelli said. “There was a giant scoreboard behind and I saw my name on top. I tried not to look at the rest.”

He didn’t have to. He ran down the 11-footer for his seventh birdie of the day and 22nd of the week for a two-stroke lead, and the 49th John Deere Classic was effectively over.

“It definitely calmed me over the 18th tee shot,” Frittelli said.

He drilled it, and not even a so-so approach that barely made the front of the green, 46 feet from the traditional Sunday back-left pin placement, could fluster him en route to a 7-under 64 for 21-under 263. Hey, a three-putt par after driving the green on the downhill 321-yard par-4 14th brought forth a smile. Dylan Frittelli, who had previously lost his head under pressure, was in his happy place on Bastille Day.

“I don’t think many pros can do that,” Frittelli said.

It’s the mental game that separates the best from the rest at the top level. Everybody can hit the ball, and if some swings are unorthodox – hello, Matthew Wolff – at impact, everyone is in the right place when everything is working. When it isn’t, that’s where doubts creep in.

Frittelli has had those doubts. Never mind that he, as a senior at Texas, sank the winning putt when the Longhorns won the NCAA title with Jordan Spieth and Cody Gribble, who have preceded him as PGA Tour winners, Spieth first doing so at the Deere, on the squad.

Never mind that he’s won twice on the European Tour, plus on various other circuits. The PGA Tour was the goal for this 29-year-old South African, and now, he’s locked in for the next two seasons plus.

The pressure points were there on Sunday, but he didn’t show it as he had in the past.

“I was thinking in those (past) moments I was really stressed and feeling the adrenaline and there’s no purpose for that,” Frittelli said. “Just calm yourself down to the point you can hit good tee shots and hit it on the green and hopefully hit a good putt here and there.

“If you can block out those distractors or those things that get your emotions going, it makes it so much easier.”

That’s not quite on a level with Kipling on triumph and disaster and treating those impostors quite the same, but he worked for him.

Frittelli came from only two strokes off the pace to win, but at the Deere, it always seems like a climb to the top for someone not in the final pairing – he was third from last – is next to impossible. On this Sunday, with Russell Henley, out 2 1/2 hours before overnight leaders Cameron Tringale and Andrew Landry, racing to the lead via a 10-under 61 for a one-stroke lead at 19-under 265, anything was possible. That kept the gallery of about 20,000 buzzing.

Frittelli chipped in from 17 feet for birdie on the par-5 10th to match Henley at 19-under, then sank a 20-footer on the par-4 11th to stand 20-under and gain a lead he’d never relinquish.

Little did he know. Bill Haas fired and fell back, stumbling to an even-par 71. Tringale fell to 2-over 73 and ended up in a tie for 16th. Landry’s 2-under 69 was acceptable but he needed a 66 to tie, and ended up in third at 18-under 266, with only Frittelli and Henley in front of him.

Meanwhile, Frittelli was hitting 11 of 14 fairways, 15 greens, needed but 27 putts, ranked first in strokes gained overall and second in putting and around the greens. “Drive for show, putt for dough” still applies – though his 344-yard drive on the par-4 17th showed who was boss in that department as well.

“It just proves the work I’ve been doing is the correct work,” Frittelli said. “Being 150th in the FedEx Cup throughout the season is so frustrating because you don’t see the results coming through. If you keep sticking to it – I made that change in my mental game and it thankfully came to fruition this week and helped me out.”

A few moments later, suddenly 48th in the playoff race, he was signing an Open Championship flag and getting ready to board Air Deere, the Boeing 767 that transported him and 13 other players to Northern Ireland and a short drive to Royal Portrush for the 148th Open.

The last scoreboard there is even bigger, high above the main grandstand and bright yellow.

Around Deere Run

Aside from Frittelli, the finisher most pleased with his outcome was rookie Collin Morikawa, whose tie for fourth on top of last week’s tie for second gave him enough points to score PGA Tour membership for the rest of the season. Now his goal is to finish in the top 125 by the regular-season finish, the Wyndham, to lock in a card for next year. ... Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, tied for 10th via a closing 6-under 65. ... Landry’s 61 was the best Sunday score in Deere history by a stroke, and two better than any Sunday round since the 2001 move to Deere Run. ... The field tattooed Deere Run again on Sunday, even with the firmer and faster conditions than years past, with an average of 68.657 strokes. The weeklong average was 69.510, with the ninth hole ranking most difficult (4.194) and the par-5 second the pushover (4.464). ... Frittelli made only one bogey all week, on the par-4 first on Friday. He had one of only five bogey-free rounds on Sunday. There were 33 across the first three days.

Tim Cronin

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