The Christmas tree is back up at the Fritsch residence in Holly Springs, N.C.
"Christmas is back on," Brad Fritsch said after a big rally spurred on by some truly incredible ball striking at the Web.com Tour Qualifying School earned him 12 starts on the PGA Tour feeder circuit in 2019.
Rounds of 72-66-64-62 and a tie for eighth (the top 10 and ties earned 12 guaranteed starts), in which the Rideau View Golf Club member hit all but one green over the final 54 holes (more on that in a minute), capped a long year for Fritsch. It started with him being slapped with a three-month suspension from the PGA Tour after he turned himself in for a doping violation. It turned out there was a banned substance in a weight-loss supplement Fritsch was taking.
By the time he returned, he had missed a reshuffle, had no status and just about nowhere to play. He got a couple of starts on the Web.com, a couple in Europe and a couple on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada. He made one cut, a T64 at the Mackenzie Tour's ATB Financial Classic.
This was after Fritsch's third season on the PGA Tour in 2017 when he made 10 out of 18 cuts, earning $166,440 and finishing 204th on the FedEx Cup standings. He earned his PGA Tour card after a win on the Web.com Tour and a runner-up finish in 2016 earned him 14th place on the Web.com money list (the top 25 earn their cards). Fritsch previously played the PGA Tour in 2013 (129th in the FedEx Cup) and 2014 (151st).
"This past year has been really hard just because I put myself in such a bad spot with the suspension and not getting in and when I did get in, I didn't play well," the 41-year-old said. "Honestly, I haven't played very well since right after I won in 2016. I had a second place the week after, but other than that, it's been so tough. Just mostly I wasn't hitting it well. I had a two-year stretch where I just hit it terrible and most of the time it was trouble off the tee."
With few opportunities to play, Fritsch spent the time working on his driving and it improved, but then came the first round of the Web.com Q-School on Thursday and Fritsch found himself playing sideways in the desert because of his driving.
"I had the first day here and it was like I forgot what I had been working on for the last eight months," he said. "It just completely went away from me. I had to kind of dig deep the second day just to not get too far behind. I was way back after the first day (tied for 115th), but I figured if I could put up a good number on the harder course, then I'd make some of that ground up and I did."
The tournament was conducted over two courses at the Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., the Cattail and the Devil's Claw. Fritsch played the Devil's Claw on Sunday, where he had an even-par 72 in the first round.
"The last two days was just trying to get in position: 'okay, let's make up some ground.' Today I played a little game with myself, like how many strokes can I beat my first day score by on the same course because I shot even? I made a couple of early bogeys on the first day and I made a birdie and a par on those holes on Sunday, so I was like, 'okay, I'm three up.' I went four up and five up and six up. In a five-hole stretch I went six up on myself and I'm thinking, 'now we can get to seven and eight, let's do it.'
"It was a little game within the game, not thinking about the field, thinking about how much I can beat myself by. That was kind of getting my mind off everything. That was good."
After getting things straightened out after the first round, Fritsch got into a groove.
By his count, he missed only one green over the final 54 holes and that ball was on the back fringe from where he putted.
"I didn't tell anyone after day two and three, but I didn't miss any greens on day two and three and I didn't miss any greens (on Sunday)," Fritsch said. "It's so stress free when all you are doing is putting for birdie. You're never chipping. You never have a six footer after a decent bunker shot. I had some chips and pitches and bunker shots on par-5s for eagle, but I never had a chip for a birdie. I never missed a green.
"I had a back fringe when I putted. I didn't use a wedge from off the green for three days in a row. It was crazy."
The 62 on Sunday tied his low round, but it was the first time he went 10-under for 18 holes.
He credited two people, Evan and Dave, for helping get him back in the game.
Evan Vollerthun was his caddy for second stage and the Q-School final. He contributed some strong green reading and steadying advice.
"He's been in my group a bunch of times over the years. He texted me and asked if I had anybody for second stage and I didn't. It was a good fit," Fritsch said. "He's kind of like (former Fritsch caddy) Jeff (Scott) in that I trust him with the reads on the greens and over eight rounds he's been phenomenal that way. He's just a real professional guy. We're kind of on the same wavelength. We're not trying to do too much out there, just trying to have a lot of opportunities and keep it low stress.
"He had a great quote. It's actually from the caddy he stays with, two caddies staying together, and he said: 'This is what Travis always says: love the process and it will love you back.' It's true. You can't focus on anything else except what you are trying to do."
Dave is Famous Dave as in Famous Dave's barbecue. If Fritsch is anything, he's a creature of habit. I remember one tournament when he was playing well, he ate at Cracker Barrel every night.
He got on a roll (cornbread, actually) after eating at Famous Dave's after the first round. After that 66 in the second round, he went back, of course.
"I do little stupid things if I play good. 'I better have the same meal, I better do this, better do that,'" he said. "This week it was Famous Dave's BBQ. I had it on Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday night. The exact same meal. The two-meat combo. It was the chopped pork and BBQ chicken with green beans, potato salad and cornbread and then I'd ask him to pack away a piece of cornbread to take back to the room with me. That was for dessert later."
Now the table is set for Fritsch for at least the first five months of 2019.