After his approach shot rolled over the narrow 12th green at New Jersey’s Ridgewood Country Club in the opening round of the U.S. Amateur, Jackson Fretty ’24 faced a tricky downhill chip for birdie. He slid a wedge under the ball and watched it drop onto the green and tumble toward the left edge of the hole, extending his right index finger as if to give the ball a gentle reminder of where it should be headed. The ball obliged, drifting right and rolling into the cup.
Fretty cracked a smile as he exited the green, fist-bumped Princeton men’s golf coach Will Green, and said, matter-of-factly, “That was fun.”
Birdies can be hard to come by in a national championship, but this August, Princeton golfers have earned their share. Incoming freshman Catherine Rao made an unprecedented run in the U.S. Women’s Amateur, placing eighth in the stroke-play portion and advancing to the quarterfinals in match play. Soon-to-be teammate Tiffany Kong ’23 also played in the tournament, finishing eight strokes over the cut line for match play. On the men’s side, Fretty played a pair of solid rounds, shooting 76 and 73, to finish in the top third of the U.S. Amateur field but did not qualify for match play.
Rao, who has ranked among the nation’s top junior golfers, shot a 6-under-par 67 in the second round of stroke play at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington, Aug. 9 and built on that performance with three straight match-play wins: 1-up over Izzy Pellot in the round of 64; 2-and-1 over Sara Im in the round of 32; and 4-and-3 over Annabelle Pancake in the round of 16. She finally met her match in the quarterfinals, dropping a close match to Ireland’s Annabel Wilson when Wilson notched three straight birdies on the back nine to win 3-and-1.
Princeton women’s golf coach Erika DeSanty, who closely followed the live scoring and TV coverage of the tournament, was impressed by Rao’s resilience: She played six rounds in five days while receiving treatment for a back injury.
“It’s a really grueling week, and Chambers Bay is no joke,” DeSanty said. “You could see that she loves competition — she’s just such a great competitor.”
DeSanty was also thrilled to see how many of the program’s alumni were keeping tabs on Rao, rallying around a player who has yet to tee up her first shot as a Tiger. With Rao and fellow recruit Sophie Zhang-Murphy joining Princeton’s defending Ivy League-champion team, the coming season is “full of excitement and possibility,” DeSanty said.
Fretty, playing in his first U.S. Amateur, was impressed by the energetic atmosphere and the challenging setups of the two courses used in the stroke-play rounds, Ridgewood and Arcola country clubs, both in Paramus, New Jersey. When playing difficult courses, he said, “you’re going to have a rough patch, and it’s about how well you handle that.” In the end, he was three strokes shy of reaching a playoff for the final spots in the 64-player match-play draw.
Fretty’s Princeton loyalties were on full display, from the orange-and-black shields on his shirt and belt to the plush tiger headcover on his driver. The bag carried by his caddie, teammate Henry Dubiel ’24, pays tribute to former Princeton football player Victor Prato ’15, an Army lieutenant who was wounded in action in Afghanistan in 2017. It’s carried by a Tiger golfer in every tournament the team plays. “To be able to carry the bag was an honor,” Fretty said, “and really sent a good message of what our program is about.”