International players bring experience to the links

Nick Cremona

When Texas head coach John Fields hits the recruiting trail, his search goes far beyond the borders of the United States. In his 13th year with the program, Fields scours the globe for international talent.

“I look for great players that are highly ranked, whether that’s in Texas or internationally,” Fields said. “I look for guys who fit with the University and are going to have fun.”

A young Finnish man, a Venezuelan and a South African playing golf together sounds like the beginning of a terrible joke, but it’s merely the most recent crop of Fields’ imported talent.

Led by the Pretoria, South Africa-native Dylan Frittelli, Texas has proved that international experience is a valuable tool. Frittelli, a junior liberal arts major, had already compiled an impressive string of wins before he even set foot on campus in Austin.

He was victorious in the 2007 Callaway Junior World Golf Championship and was named the top amateur and junior player in South Africa after winning the South African boys’ championship in 2008. Now he is ranked as the 55th-best collegiate player in the nation by Golfweek.

“I definitely hold myself to high standards and use those rankings as a benchmark for success,” Frittelli said.

Sophomore Julio Vegas compiled a few victories of his own before coming to Texas. The younger brother of a current PGA Tour rookie and former Longhorn standout, Jhonattan Vegas, Julio is more mature than his sophomore class title suggests. The 23-year-old was crowned the Venezuelan National Junior Champion in 2003 and 2004 and finished second behind his brother in the championship.

Julio also competed in the 2005 World Junior Golf Team championship as a member of the Venezuelan team. After redshirting two years ago, and not seeing any action last year, Julio has brought his vast international experience to the team this year, grabbing multiple top-15 finishes in the process.

The youngest of the three international players on the team is Toni Hakula from Espoo, Finland. Hakula also claimed a major junior title before he became a Longhorn, winning the 2008 Finnish Junior Championship. He also competed in the 2009 British Amateur Championship. Golf isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about Finland, and it wasn’t even the first sport Hakula played.

“I played hockey and tennis for seven years,” Hakula said. “I was just the best at golf, so I decided to stick with it.”

The international bent is just one element the Longhorns bring to the postseason, which begins today with the Big 12 Championship at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan. Nebrwaska hosts the event. Oklahoma State has won the conference title eight times, including last year, while Texas enters having claimed three conference championships in the past, most recently in 2004.