At times this weekend, the British Open leaderboard resembled a Texas Longhorns reunion. Jordan Spieth, Dylan Frittelli, and Scottie Scheffler were all jockeying for position near the top of the field in the annual golf major held at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, England. Watching from Austin or Amarillo or Corpus Christi, a Texan could be forgiven for thinking the UT trio would steal the show.
We were so confident of a Longhorns win that we’d begun workshopping lines about El Arroyo being served at the victory dinner and Texans’ hard-earned knack for conquering howling winds and burned-out fairways. (In fairness to the famously harsh course, Royal St. George’s was unusually lush and green this year. Around Texas, only the Dallas Cowboys practice field looks that good in July.)
Okay. We understand Texas athletes won’t be the story of this British Open, after 24-year-old Californian Collin Morikawa shot a final-round 66 to become the first men’s golfer to capture two major championships on his first appearances. But the Longhorn alumni society did itself proud, with Spieth, Frittelli, and Scheffler all finishing in the top ten. Spieth matched Morikawa’s final-round 66 and finished in second place, two strokes shy of the lead. He got within one stroke of Morikawa after a birdie on the fourteenth hole.
Problem is, Spieth finished Saturday’s third round with a pair of bogeys and had two more on the first six holes on Sunday. He recovered well but couldn’t close the gap. Four years since his last win in a major, Spieth appears on track to end the drought, with top-five performances in two majors this season—in addition to taking runner-up in the Open, he finished third in the Masters in April. “I really felt like I one hundred percent played well enough to win,” he told NBC. “I hadn’t felt that way at a major in quite a while . . . I’m going to take that as a lot of confidence going forward.”
His former Texas teammate, Frittelli, was six shots behind Morikawa in fifth place. Scheffler, who began Sunday tied for fourth, wound up in a tie for eighth after a final-round 71 marred 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 he has influenced every Texas golfer since through his writing and his enduring golf wisdom. His Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book is among the best-selling sports books of all time, and his lessons have been passed from generation to generation on the Texas campus, from Morris Williams to Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, then to Justin Leonard and Mark Brooks, and finally, on to the current generation. Frittelli sank the winning putt to win the national championship for the Longhorns in 2012. On that team was freshman Jordan Spieth, who became a mentor to Scheffler. On and on it goes.
Crenshaw’s victory at the 1995 Masters came one week after Penick’s death. He’d served as one of Penick’s pallbearers the day before the tournament, and carried a fifteenth club in his bag as a tribute to his friend, mentor, and coach. “It was like someone put their hand on my shoulder and guided me through,” he said after winning.
From that lineage come the three Longhorns at Royal St. George’s. They are a reflection of both Penick and the state of golf in Texas. Spieth grew up playing at Brookhaven Country Club in Farmers Branch, one of the biggest 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 of Dallas, and still lives in his hometown. A recent overhaul of his swing mechanics has led to Spieth’s resurgence this season, after a PGA Tour winless streak that stretched from 2018 through 2020.
“Standing on a tee at the U.S. Open and not exactly knowing where the ball is going to go is not a great feeling,” he said at the 2020 U.S. Open. “I know you guys probably haven’t experienced that before, but it’s not incredibly enjoyable.” His return to golf’s biggest stage comes at a time when the sport is increasingly dominated by big hitters. Spieth ranks just sixty-eighth in average driving distance from the tee, but his overall game and returning touch had him just a couple of strokes away from winning his second Open championship.
Frittelli was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and didn’t 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 Championship at Torrey Pines in 2007. He chose UT, where his uncle was a music professor. There he met Spieth. Frittelli’s putt in 2012 helped the Longhorns win their first national title since the Crenshaw-Kite teams of four decades earlier. As Spieth vaulted to the top of the world rankings with wins at the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015, Frittelli toiled away 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’s playing some of the best golf of his career, and could be close to breaking through with more tournament wins in the near future.
Spieth has said that Frittelli’s work ethic and discipline—the South African only went out on Sixth Street two times during his four years at UT—pushed him to excel. “That competitive nature has carried over into kind of creating a work ethic for both of us,” Spieth told the Daily Texan when Frittelli returned to Austin in 2018 to compete in a World Golf Championships event. Or, as Texas golf coach John Fields told the Austin American-Statesman: “All our guys thought he was a forty-year-old guy playing college golf here. He had a real maturity when he 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 win a major, but the 25-year-old fell out of title contention after struggling on the front nine.
All in all, though, it was the kind of weekend all three had dreamed about in their college days, with the entire threesome entering the final round of a major with chances to claim the championship. As endings go, it wasn’t perfect. But the way these Longhorns have played this season, it might not be long before they turn another tournament final round into an impromptu UT reunion.