BY RICK BROWN
Before he headed off to a series of television interviews, Dylan Frittelli made a stop at his golf bag and wiped the sweat off his face with a towel.
“Do I look pretty?” he asked his caddy, John Curtis.
This after some gorgeous golf Sunday made the 29-year-old from Johannesburg, South Africa a first-time winner on the PGA Tour at the John Deere Classic.
Frittelli shot a final-round 64 to finish the championship at 21 under par 263. He played the final 44 holes of the championship without a bogey, and had just one in 72 holes of competition. It’s the first time in 230 weeks that a player made just one bogey in a PGA Tour event.
Frittelli finished two shots ahead of Russell Henley’s fast finish. Henley shot a 10-under 61 that is the lowest final round in the 49-year history of the tournament.
Frittelli had come to TPC Deere Run with earnings of $743,537 in 33 career PGA Tour events. He received a first-place check for $1,080,000 for Sunday’s victory. He also earned a spot in next week’s British Open at Royal Portrush. He played in the Irish Open there in 2013.
Frittelli became the fifth player in the last seven years to make the Deere his first PGA Tour victory. Jordan Spieth won his first tour event here in 2013, a year after he and Frittelli helped Texas win the 2012 NCAA title. Frittelli , a senior, made a 30-foot putt on the final green to win the pivotal match and the NCAA title match against Georgia at Riviera Country Club.
Both Frittelli and Spieth, then a freshman, turned pro after the season. While Spieth became a PGA Tour wunderkind, Frittelli’s journey has not been as fast.He won twice on the European Tour in 2017, and twice more on the European Challenge Tour in 2013 and 2016. He also played on the South Africa Tour, and his professional career was a grind.
“It wasn’t easy,” Frittelli said. “A lot of travel. I’d play 12 weeks on a row.”
He played his first PGA Tour event in 2017. Frittelli had never finished better than 18th in a tour event entering the Deere. And now he’s a winner.
“This just proves that the work I’m doing is the correct work,” said Frittelli, who gets a two-year tour exemption for his victory.
Frittelli’s talent has never been up for debate. But he’s struggled to get out of his own way mentally.
“I tried to quiet my mind, relax and face the task at hand,” Frittelli said.
It was a winning formula, as 22 birdies and just one bogey can attest. He hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation Sunday, and needed just 27 putts to pull away from the field.
“He was just really focused and relaxed,” Curtis said. “He’d pick a target and commit to it.”
Henley started the final round seven shots out of the lead, in a tie for 25th, and nearly pulled off an incredible comeback. Starting his round 2 1/2 hours before the leaders, Henley’s 61 was a far cry from the 73 he shot in Saturday’s third round.
“Yesterday was no fun at all,” said Henley, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour. “It was a struggle. I was all over the place mentally and physically.”
Henley’s 10-birdie no bogey 31-30 masterpiece was his lowest score on tour by two shots.
“I’ve never finished with a 10-under 61, so that was awesome for me,” Henley said. “If you would have told me at the start of the day, “Hey, we’ll give you a 66,’ I would have said that’s pretty good. To get five better than that is pretty awesome.”
Andrew Landry, who started the final round tied for the lead with Cameron Tringale, birdied the final hole for a closing 69 and finished third alone.
Rookie Collin Morikawa, who received a sponsor’s exemption into the Deere, and Chris Stroud tied for fourth. Morikawa, who shot a final-round 66, tied for second last week at the 3M Open. He officially locked up his tour card with Sunday’s $264,000 payday.
The final round started with 11 players within three shots of the lead. Thirty minutes after the leaders teed off, 12 players were within three shots. But Henley powered his way to the top with his 61.
Frittelli birdied the first three holes, and took the lead to himself when two more birdies at the 10th and 11th got him to 20 under par. He drove the par-4 14th, but three-putted for par. As he walked off the green, his positive attitude was on display.
“I walked off the green smiling,” he said.
Frittelli is not a scoreboard watcher. He had no idea where he stood as the final round wound down. It wasn’t until he lined up an 11-foot birdie putt on the 17th green that Frittelli’s eyes caught a huge leaderboard to the right of the hole.
“I knew I’d have two shots (to play with) if I made that putt,” said Frittelli, who knocked it in. “That was huge.”
One par later, Frittelli was a PGA Tour winner. As a kid he’d watch South African golf heroes like Refief Goosen and Ernie Els playing in major championships on television.
“A little seed was planted,” Frittelli said. “I’d think, ‘If they can do it, I can as well.’”
This week, Goosen and Els will be able to watch Frittelli playing in a major championship, thanks to his sterling play at TPC Deere Run.