SILVIS, IL. – Jordan Spieth was one of the most popular champions in the history of the John Deere Classic. Spieth won ii in 2013 when he was just 19 and took the title again two years later.
Spieth has never been back, but one of his teammates on the University of Texas’ national championship team in 2012 made it to the event this year and did just fine. Dylan Frittelli used a final-round 64 to claim a two-stroke victory at TPC Deere Run.
Frittelli, 29, is a lot different player than Spieth. Spieth grew up in Texas, Frittelli in South Africa. Now Spieth lives in Dallas, Frittelli in Austin. They have lunch together frequently and play some practice rounds together as well, but Frittelli didn’t seek any advice from Spieth – winner of three major championships — as he prepared for his first visit to the JDC
They do share a great memory, though. Frittelli rolled in the winning putt for Texas in the NCAA Championships his senior season. Spieth was a freshman on that team and turned professional rather than return to Texas. He made the John Deere Classic his first professional victory the next year, and Sunday’s win was Frittelli’s first on the circuit. Frittelli said they’re “still good buddies.’’
“Jordan came in as the most highly recruited player. He had a chip on his shoulder,’’ said Frittelli. “We pushed each other. I beat him in more tournaments than he beat me at the college level.’’
As touring pros that hasn’t been the case. Frittelli has divided time between the European and PGA Tours and was worried that he could retain his membership in both. Sunday’s win quelled that fear. On Sunday night he was off on the tournament-sponsored jet to next week’s British Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.
Frittelli will be making his third straight appearance in The Open and he’s played in seven major championships.
But he’s no Spieth – yet.
“Jordan is the antithesis of me,’’ said Frittelli. “He has a burning desire to win at everything. I’d beat him four straight games in Ping Pong and he’d insist we play another one. I’m more methodical and thoughtful than him.’’
The connection with Spieth notwithstanding, Frittelli is different than most every player on the PGA Tour – not just Spieth. Frittelli is not afraid to wear long sleeves in steamy conditions, like he did in Sunday’s 90-degree plus conditions. He disdains contact lenses, and wears prescription glasses instead. He also prefers to leave the flagstick in on most every putt.
Until Sunday Frittelli’s unique status wasn’t so noticeable. His previous best finish on the PGA Tour was a tie for 18th at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic in March.
The John Deere Classic was its usual wide-open affair on Sunday with 11 players within three shots of 54-hole co-leaders Andrew Landry and Cameron Tringale. Frittelli was two shots back in a tie for fifth.
Russell Henley made the only serious move among the players who teed off early – and his was an eye-catcher. Henley posted a sizzling 9-under-par 61 – the best round of the week – as Frittelli was walking to the No. 10 tee. Henley and Frittelli were tied for the lead at that time, and Frittelli took the lead – for good, as it turned out – with a birdie at No. 11.
His work wasn’t done, though. He drove the green on the 361-yard par-4 fourteenth but missed both his eagle and birdie putts. He missed a makeable birdie putt at No. 15, too, and the one-stroke lead was maintained through the par-3 sixteenth when Frittelli two-putted from 40 feet for another par.
Frittelli expanded his lead by two shots when he got up and down from a green-side bunker at No. 17, holing his birdie putt from 11 feet. He didn’t look at a leaderboard until he was lining up that putt.
No. 18 was a routine par – a drive in the fairway, an approach to the front of the green and two putts for the par. He finished at 21-under-par 263, two ahead of Henley and three in front of Landry.
Luke Donald, the lone player with Chicago connections in the field, faded on the weekend with rounds of 70-71. He fell 17 spots on Sunday and finished in a tie for 56th.