BIRDIES FORE LOVE
Chance meeting at pro-am leads to RSM Birdies Fore Love donation
Dylan Frittelli donated $50,000 he won in the RSM Birdies Fore Love competition to an organization that grew close to his heart
September 30, 2020
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
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Kevin Lynch had come to TPC River Highlands to have a few laughs with his old Navy buddy, Tony Davison, and play in the Monday pro-am at the Travelers Championship last year.
Back in the day, the two had served together on the USS Boston, a nuclear-powered attack submarine. Davison was a torpedoman and Lynch ran the food service operation. Even then, the two loved golf, storing clubs under their bunks just in case a course was nearby when they weren’t out to sea.
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“We were kids,” Lynch says, laughing. “We were silly enough to think that if we took our clubs with us on board that if we pulled into Scotland, we'd be able to go play St. Andrews. What did we know?”
On this Monday, Lynch and Davison were paired with Dylan Frittelli, a South African in his first full season on the PGA TOUR. He was drawn to the good-natured banter and barbs between the two old friends, as well as their shared military background.
“I was quizzing them on how it all worked and the Navy because my sports psychologist, Jay Brunza, was a Navy psychologist,” Frittelli says. “... So, a lot of the stories I've heard from Jay about going down to Antarctica and serving in Desert Storm and stuff.”
On Wednesday before the tournament started, Frittelli met Lynch and Davison at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut. Davison, who works for a global defense contractor with offices there, had arranged for a tour of the USS South Dakota. Weapons, sonar, navigation and intelligence were just a few of the departments they explored on the massive boat.
“Now I had at this point been out since my gosh, 25 years,” Lynch recalls. “So, everything was different. ... It was shocking to me. And Dylan was just mesmerized.”
“It was so cool,” agrees Frittelli, who Lynch remembers peppering the SMEs or, the ship’s Subject Matter Experts, with thought-provoking questions about things like oxygen displacement and hydrogen storage on the submarine.
But Frittelli and Lynch bonded over something else, too. Something much less visible, but just as powerful – their shared interest in mental health.
Lynch runs a non-profit called the Quell Foundation which awards college scholarships to students who have a mental health diagnosis or have lost a close family member or caregiver to suicide. The foundation has distributed more than $1.8 million to students in 49 states at over 450 universities since its inception in 2015.
Lynch had given a book about the organization to Frittelli, who was intrigued and went to Google to learn more. So, three months later, when the 30-year-old led the field with 24 birdies at last year’s Sanderson Farms Championship he knew just what to do with the $50,000 he won in the RSM Birdies Fore Love competition.
He gave it all to the Quell Foundation, which Lynch started in response to his son’s struggle with managing his bi-polar disorder and kicking a heroin addiction that led to two incarcerations.
“What Dylan did is something that really shocked me to my core because it was just a very, it was very kind and thoughtful thing,” Lynch says. “... It really was all part of a chance meeting and a discussion. We were walking down the fairway just talking -- everybody knows somebody, you have 63 million Americans that live with a mental health illness.
“That's kind of the connection we were talking about. It went back and forth. And obviously, he was listening.”From left to right: Tony Davison, Dylan Frittelli, volunteer and Kevin Lynch. (Courtesy of Kevin Lynch)
For Frittelli, it was personal in so many ways. His father Ray has struggled with mental illness over the last decade or so, although he currently is in a good place.
“Obviously being away from him playing golf and being at Texas is it's kind of been tough for me to figure that stuff out,” Frittelli says. “But he's done well now, and we've managed to get him back on track and he's totally healthy and functional now. ...
“And I just think it's something that very few people and men, especially, it's a really tough thing for men to talk about.”
When Frittelli was in college at Texas, he encountered another kind of mental health issue. A friend on the women’s soccer team, Kylie Doniak was nearly run over by a drunk driver as she was leaving downtown Austin one night. She had numerous broken bones and was in a coma for weeks.
“And the main thing was the head injury she sustained,” Frittelli recalls. “So, in that sense, obviously it was a traumatic thing, but the recovery she made from that accident was amazing for me to see firsthand.”
Just last week, Frittelli had a friend back home in Austin commit suicide. Plus, the South African has extended family in that college town, and a friend of those relatives came back from serving in Afghanistan with PTSD.
So, Frittelli knows better than most that taking care of a person’s mental health is as important to life as the good nutrition he practices and the exercise he makes sure to get each day.
“I always try and tell people there are like three or four facets of your life,” Frittelli says. “You’ve got to exercise, stay fit, stay healthy there. You're got to have a good diet. And then you also got to have good mental health and people don't see that as a facet of life. They just think that's something that'll take care of itself. Like if you're happy, you'll be well adjusted and fine.
“But through my work with my sports psychologist, I've realized that no, it's just like your physical side. You have to go to the gym, you have to work on it. And the mental side too, you got to feed your brain with the right chemicals. You've got to eat well, you've got to meditate, and you've got to find things that give you the advantage there and not to go down the negative path.”
Frittelli’s donation provided Quell Foundation scholarships for 40 students, giving them a different kind of advantage in life. The scholarships are broken into three areas – the Survivor, the Fighter and the Bridge The Gap, which go to students pursuing a degree related to the provision of mental health services. Part of the application process is writing an essay, and Lynch says those words are powerful.
“If you can imagine reading 300 essays of people talking some of the worst times in their life,” Lynch says. “You know, sexual assault or losing a parent, finding a parent who committed suicide, having depression, having been hospitalized for two years -- all of them are really traumatic stories.
“And yet, I'm looking at their GPA and they're 3.9, 3.5. And these are people who are going on to some of the best colleges in our country and you just want to freaking hug them and say, ‘I don't know how you did it, but Holy smokes, let me help you.’”
Four of the Fighter grants Frittelli’s donation funded went to student athletes, a new scholarship category created in part because of his gift. Three have a primary diagnosis of anxiety, the other of depression. Two of them have PTSD. But they are succeeding in life -- two are premed, one is a psychology major and the other one is a nursing major.
“I say this all the time, there are people out there who impact lives that they will never know,” Lynch said. “Dylan will never meet these 40 kids. He will never know who they are and what they go on to do, but he made a difference in their life. That’s a huge, huge thing."