Sometimes this weekend, the British Open leaderboard looked like a Texas Longhorns meeting. Jordan Spieth, Dylan Frittelli, and Scottie Scheffler were all jockeying for positions near the top of the field at the annual major golf held at Royal St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, England. Looking at Austin or Amarillo or Corpus Christi, a Texan might be forgiven for thinking the UT trio would steal the show.
We were so confident of a Longhorns win that we would start work lines on El Arroyo being served at the victory dinner with Texans ’hard-earned talent for victory wind howls and burn-out paths. (In fairness to the famously harsh course, The Royal St. George was very lush and green this year. Around Texas, only the Dallas Cowboys practice field looks good in July.)
Agree. We understand Texas athletes will not the This British Open story, after 24-year-old California collin Morikawa shot a final-round 66 to become the first male golfer to take two major championships on his first appearance. But the Longhorn alumni society made itself proud, with Spieth, Frittelli, and Scheffler all finishing in the top ten. Spieth matched Morikawa’s 66-final and finished in second place, two shy strokes from the lead. He got into one stroke in Morikawa after a birdie on the fourteenth hole.
The problem is, Spieth finished Saturday’s third round with a pair of bogeys and had two more on their first six holes on Sunday. He recovered well, but could not close the gap. Four years since his last win in a major, Spieth appeared on track at the end of the drought, with the top-five performance of two majors this season — in addition to taking runners-up at the Open, he finished third in the Masters in April. “I really felt like I was one hundred percent played well enough to win,” he said on NBC. “I hadn’t felt that way in a major in quite a while… I’ll take that as a lot of confidence going forward.”
His former teammate in Texas, Frittelli, was six shots behind Morikawa in fifth place. Scheffler, who started Sunday tied for fourth, was injured in a tie for eighth after a final-round 71 foul by bogeys on four of the first ten holes.
All three are part of a University of Texas tradition that dates back to 1931, when Harvey Penick became the school’s golf coach. He retired after 32 years, but has influenced every Texas golfer since his writing and his enduring golf wisdom. Li Harvey Penick’s Red Book is among the best-selling sports books of all time, and his lessons have been passed down from generation to generation on Texas campus, from Morris Williams to Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, then Justin Leonard and Mark Brooks, and finally, on the current generation. Frittelli dived the putt to win the national championship for the Longhorns in 2012. On that team was freshman Jordan Spieth, who became a Scheffler advisor. On and on it goes.
Crenshaw’s victory in the 1995 Masters came a week after Penick’s death. He would serve as one of Penick’s pallbearers the day before the competition and carry a fifteenth club in his bag as a tribute to his friends, mentors, and coaches. “It was like someone put their hands on my shoulders and guided me in,” he said after winning.
From that lineage comes the three Longhorns of the Royal St. George. They are a reflection of both Penick and the state of golf in Texas. Spieth grew up playing at the Brookhaven Country Club in Branch Farmers, one of the largest golf operations in the United States. That’s also where Scott Verplank and Andrew Magee trained in their youth. Spieth won three state championships at Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas, and still lives in his hometown. A recent overhaul of his swing mechanics has led to Spieth’s resurgence this season, following a winless PGA track stretch that stretched from 2018 to 2020
“Standing on a tee at the US Open and not exactly knowing where the ball is going to go is not a big feeling,” he said you say at the 2020 US Open. “I know you guys probably don’t have that previous experience, but it’s not incredibly enjoyable.” His return to the biggest stage of golf comes at a time when the sport is increasingly dominated by big hitters. Spieth ranks just sixty-eighth on average driving distance from the tee, but his overall game and back touch was him just a couple of strokes away from winning his second Open Championship.
Frittelli was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and did not receive formal golf lessons until he was twelve. Both UT and the University of Arkansas tried to recruit him after he won the Junior World Golf Championships in Torrey Pines in 2007. He chose UT, where his uncle was a music teacher. There he met Spieth. Frittelli’s putt in 2012 helped the Longhorns win their first national title since the Crenshaw-Kite team in four decades earlier. As Spieth vaulted at the top of the world rankings and wins at the Masters and US Open in 2015, Frittelli worked on the European tour.
Frittelli joined the PGA Tour in 2017. His only PGA career victory came in 2019 at the John Deere Classic in Illinois. But with a fifth-place tie at this year’s Masters and another top-five finish at the Open, he has played some of the best golf of his career, and could close in on the break with more tournament wins in the near future.
Spieth said that Frittelli’s work ethic and discipline – the South African only came out on Sixth Street twice during his four years at UT — pushed him to excel. “That competitive nature brought about in kind of creates a work ethic for both of us,” Spieth told you a Everyday Texan when Frittelli returns to Austin in 2018 to compete in a World Golf Championship event. Or, as Texas golf coach John Fields said Austin American-Statesman: “All of our guys thought he was a forty-year-old guy playing college golf here. He had a real maturity when it came to Austin.”
Scheffler, the Dallas-raised golfer who won three state titles at Highland Park High School, is still after his first PGA Tour victory. He started Sunday’s final round with a chance to make his first tournament a major win, but the 25-year-old fell out of title debate after struggling on nine ahead.
All in all, though, it was the kind of weekend all three dreamed about in their college days, with the entire trio entering the final round of a major and lucky championship claim. As finishes went, it wasn’t perfect. But the way these Longhorns played this season, it might not be long before they turn another final round tournament into an impromptu UT meeting.