In 2012, I sank a 30-foot putt in the 2012 NCAA golf championship to secure the title for the University of Texas. To this day, I consider that to be my proudest golfing moment.
But I could hardly have imagined making it to the national championship, let alone winning, when I first arrived in Austin from Pretoria, South Africa, in 2008. Back then, we were a young team, ranked somewhere around No. 30 or 35 in the country. Most of the guys were from Texas, and there was just one other foreigner, Julio Vegas from Venezuela.
My freshman year, the team didn’t stretch or warm up, didn’t keep track of their stats, didn’t take school seriously. We had a great gym, fantastic coaches, a staff of trainers at our service, and access to the best equipment money could buy, but most of the guys on the team chose not to put in the extra yardage. They seemed content to ride their natural skills and success in the junior ranks through college.
That was not what I was used to, nor was that the vision I had for my collegiate career, and early on I was determined not to fall into the lackadaisical mindset of my teammates. That meant sticking to myself quite a bit during freshman year and accepting my role as the weird foreign guy, the try-hard who did all of these crazy stretches and warm up exercises before heading out on the range.
Something that helped keep me motivated, even in the face of socially ostracized, was seeing and getting to know the other athletes on campus. I remember being in the weight room and noticing this incredibly fit guy who worked out harder than anyone else in the gym. He looked familiar, so I asked my trainer who he was.
“Oh, that’s Trey Hardee,” the trainer said. “He’s a decathlete.”
When he said his name, I remembered watching Trey compete in the Olympics just a few months before. At that point, he had already graduated, but he trained in the UT weight room alongside us current athletes.
I had never seen someone so diligent. Trey carried around this notebook and wrote down the details of every single lift.
Then on the swim team, there was Kathleen Hersey, who competed in the Beijing Olympics at the age of 18 before even arriving on campus as a freshman.
It was like, holy cow, I’m surrounded the best of the best in pretty much every sport. It made me realize even if you’re a top 10 golfer in the country, you’re still not a big man on campus, and it motivated me to work even harder.
Ahead of our first tournament of the season in Minnesota, I earned a spot in the starting lineup and as the season progressed, I established myself as the No. 2 golfer on the team. It was a slow process, but eventually, my teammates got curious about some of the strange things I was doing.
When they asked, I explained my thought process behind stretching and warming up. “You can’t just walk onto the range,” I said. “We played 18 holes yesterday, and you’re sleeping in a strange bed. Your body is not going to be the same as it is at home. You’ve got to try to get it ready so it can move properly and you can swing your own usual swing.”
By the end of the season, the guys would do a bit of a warm-up in the locker room or even set a towel down on the range and do some stretches. I considered it a small, but significant, victory.
Being a leader on a golf team is a unique thing. One story that comes to mind is that of Patrick Reed. While he was at Augusta State, Patrick’s teammates disliked him so much and thought he was so bad for team chemistry they tried to convince their coach to kick him off the team. The coach refused and instead of that internal turmoil dooming Augusta State to failure, they won back-to-back championships with Reed leading the way.
My approach to leadership while I was at UT was to simply do what I thought was best for my game and be respectful to the sport and what I thought was right. But that wasn’t always easy.
One time, during a qualification round my sophomore year, a teammate witnessed an upperclassman on the team cheat by discretely dropping a ball out the back of his hand and claiming it was a ball he had shanked into the woods.
My teammate didn’t confront the guy on the spot and instead came to me and asked what he should do. It seemed pretty straightforward to me. Nothing is more abhorrent to a serious golfer than cheating, so I told him to tell our head coach John Fields what he had seen.
He said, “Oh, I can’t do that. The guys are going to hate me for it. They’re going to hold it against me, and socially, they’re going to put me to the side.”
“Dude, if you don’t want to do it,” I said, “I’m going to do it. You’ve told me now, so I have to. Rules are rules, it doesn’t matter if it’s your buddy, your mom, your cousin. Rules are rules.”
So I told Coach and when he confronted the guy, he refused to admit what had happened. Later that night, I even had another teammate call me and chew me out, saying, “You can’t f’ing do this, this is your teammate, you can’t accuse him of cheating.” The guy on the phone demanded to know who the player was who witnessed the incident.
Eventually the guy just said, “Oh sorry, guys, I stepped on my ball when I was looking for it and I didn’t realize it was actually a one-stroke penalty. So I added a stroke to my score.”
I can see how some people may have chosen to just ignore this incident and not risk their social standing with the other guys on the team, but speaking out was a pretty easy decision for me to make. It was just a matter of right and wrong, of respecting the game of golf.
Even though the entire team never got the full details of what happened that day, I think refusing to let that incident slide set a positive precedent and was one of the many things that helped transform us into the team that won the national title in 2012.
As soon as we stepped on campus in the fall of 2011, the vibe was totally different than it had been in years past. Of course, we had Jordan Speith, who I nicknamed “Superstar,” and Cody Gribble, a blue-chip recruit who after going through some freshman ups and downs was looking sharp as a sophomore. We had a deep squad of six or seven guys who were competitive.
As soon as we won a couple tournaments, it was like, hang on, this could be something special.
I noticed changes in myself, too. When I was a freshman, I held my cards close to my chest. My quiet, lonesome hard work was still present but now I had an eagerness to help my teammates. I was now much more generous with information and advice. We would have pre-round meetings and I would share everything I knew about the course we were playing. I realized every little detail will make a difference when you’re talking about the fine margins at the top of the rankings.
It was like a wave. I arrived in 2008 and there was no swell and then all of a sudden, the big wave started to build and then by the time senior year rolled around, there was a beautiful crest. The guys were focused and diligent, even on the academic side.
My goal throughout college was to use the opportunities I was given and leave no stone unturned during my four years. This brand of leadership is one that is most important to me; the silent, day-to-day, consistent leadership that one can aim to achieve in real time on a regular basis.
I saw many examples of this during my time at UT, from Coach Fields, Deloss Dodds, and many UT employees, professors, classmates and friends, and I credit that type of leadership, combined with raw talent and hard work from the entire team and coaching staff, for making the 2012 national championship victory possible.
Dylan Frittelli is a native of Pretoria, South Africa, and was a member of the University of Texas men’s golf team from 2008 to 2012, winning the NCAA team title in 2012. Following graduation, Frittelli turned professional and is now competing on the PGA Tour.