With the sun beginning to set in the background, Dylan Frittelli set up on the far left end of the practice range at Austin Country Club in the early evening on Thursday. The 27-year-old former Longhorn hit balls as his swing coach, Chuck Cook, kept a watchful eye.
The past two days at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play hadn’t been exactly what Frittelli desired. He had lost his first two matches, effectively eliminating him from advancing to the knockout round, which begins Saturday.
But Frittelli still had a smile on his face and was upbeat as he beat balls into the range.
“There’s a lot to reflect on,” Frittelli said. “A lot of good stuff, in with a few bad things. I’m still gonna look favorably over the last two days.”
Frittelli had a much different view of this tournament last year. At the time the Johannesburg, South Africa, native was ranked 190th in the world. Only the top 64 in the world qualify for the event. But Frittelli still attended last year’s tournament as a spectator.
This year, though, after two wins in 2017 on the European Tour, he’s right where he expected to be — inside the ropes — a place few thought possible.
“I mean I told a lot of people — I know tons of people. I was running into them. I said I'll be here next year. I'll be playing in this tournament,” Frittelli said in his Monday press conference. “People looked at me: ‘You're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64.’ It was a goal I set myself. I kept on telling people, and self affirmation. The more I told myself, the more I started to believe it.”
After losing to world No. 24 Xander Schauffele, 1 down, on Wednesday, Frittelli needed a win on Thursday to stay alive in group play. His opponent was a familiar face — Sergio Garcia, last year’s Masters champion, and someone who Frittelli befriended over a year ago.
“Yes, we are friends, but we are both trying our hardest to beat each other,” Garcia said. “Obviously it's always a little bit more enjoyable when you are good friends with your opponent.”
The crowd on Thursday seemed to be pulling for both players equally — it would’ve been a hard decision one way or the other. Frittelli, while not a big name in professional golf, helped deliver the Longhorns a national championship in 2012. A guy named Jordan Spieth was Frittelli’s teammate at Texas.
“I had lots of fans out there. It was awesome,” Frittelli said. “Dream come true for me.”
Garcia, meanwhile, has recently become a popular face within the Austin golf scene. Last summer, he married former UT golfer Angela Atkins. The two just had their first baby last week.
On Thursday, it was about as Longhorn of a crowd as it gets. UT men’s golf coach John Fields and UT women’s soccer coach Angela Kelly followed the match. Multiple current UT golfers followed as well, including Scottie Scheffler and the 2017 U.S. women’s amatuer champion, Sophia Schubert.
And then of course, there was Matthew McConaughey, who walked inside the ropes.
“I showed the ‘Hook ‘em’ to him, and Matthew responded with a casual ‘Hook ‘em,’” Frittelli said.
Frittelli built a 2-up lead over Garcia on the front nine but then faltered on the back. Garcia made birdies at the par-4 10th and par-5 12th to square the match. Frittelli hit each of his approach shots in the water on the short par-4 13th and the par-4 14th, and he quickly found himself 2 down to Garcia.
“I played really well through that front nine. And I guess that drive from the ninth green over to the 10th tee kind of just sucked all the life out of me,” Frittelli said. “I didn’t seem to have anything on the back nine.”
Frittelli made a crucial par save at the par-4 15th, birdied the par-5 16th and made a critical 7-footer for par at the par-3 17th to keep the match alive. He was 1 down to Garcia when he arrived at the par-4 18th. Garcia drove the green and two-putted for birdie, while Frittelli made par, giving the Spaniard a 2-up win.
“I love playing with him. He’s a great guy,” said Frittelli, who’s played multiple rounds in Austin with Garcia before. “He’s one of the best players in the history of the game.”
Frittelli has one more match left in Austin. He plays India’s Shubhankar Sharma on Friday at 11:31 a.m.
“Hopefully I can just pull ahead and win early tomorrow,” Frittelli said. “My goal is to beat the traffic on 360 — finish in three hours and hopefully get out of here before the traffic starts.”