A three-hour drive along Interstate 95 separated the men’s and women’s golf teams on April 28, 2013. On that Sunday of the Ivy League championship weekend at Maryland’s Caves Valley Golf Club, five shots separated the first-place men from runner-up Yale. At Trump National Golf Course, one shot in aggregate team score separated the champion Harvard women from the runner-up Tigers. That day, Princeton produced two Ivy League Individual champions: then-juniors Greg Jarmas and Kelly Shon.
“It was a really fulfilling weekend last year, for me and my teammates,” Jarmas said. “And it was great to see everyone put it together and come out on top after three hard days.”
Now seniors, Jarmas and Shon will look to lead their teams on courses across the country and ideally to a second consecutive year of success at the Ivy championships in nearby Springfield, N.J.
Coach Nikki Cutler has been at the helm of Princeton women’s golf since the 2010-11 season. She spoke about the exceptional year that the program experienced in 2013.
“I think it’s really special that we had the two individual champions, and we had both of our teams contending for the championship last year,” Cutler said. “[The women’s team] just about got it done. We came up one shot short. But I’m really proud of the effort that we had. And our focus is really on playing well and putting ourselves in that position.”
Rankings and stats do not necessarily back up the high expectations for the reigning champion men’s team and runner-up women’s team. According to Golfstat, the official statistics tracker for NCAA golf, Princeton men rank fourth out of eight for this upcoming year based on average scores per round this past fall season. The women rank third in the league by the similar metrics.
For the men, Jarmas currently occupies the sixth spot in the league individual rankings. His closest teammate in the rankings is freshman Alex Dombrowski, who Jarmas described as “a really talented player and a really hard worker. He’s really committed to doing what he wants to do.” Jarmas also described the offseason dedication of sophomore Matt Gerber as likely to pay dividends.
Women’s Golf Coaches Association honorable All-America Shon remains the standout player on her team. Among her accomplishments, she managed the highest finish in Princeton and Ivy League history at the NCAA finals, sitting at a tie for 37th with a score of +10. In her fourth and final season, the sky will be the limit for this remarkable Tiger athlete.
Two freshmen join Shon this year. According to their coach, rookies Jordan Lippetz and Hana Ku have made an immediate impact, beginning with their first intra-squad tournament, which is used to determine lineups. Of particular note, Lippetz and Ku, nationally ranked in their junior careers, finished fourth and 11th in the season-opening Princeton Invitational.
Sophomore Alex Wong often features in the Prince’s Tweet of the Day. Her coach describes her as a hard worker who leads the team in the weight room and on the driving range. “Alex is not all talk,” Cutler explained. “She delivers. Angie Bramley-Moyer, our strength coach, will back that up.”
While a successful collegiate golf program relies on outstanding performers, Coach Cutler expounded on the value of a deep lineup.
“We’ve worked really hard in the last couple of years to add depth, overall,” she began. “The level of competition in the league is higher than ever. So in order to contend, you have to have a very deep team from one to five. So that’s been a big priority for us. We have a number of great players throughout the years, and we had a really solid team last year. But it’s been a really big focus for us to have that depth. Ideally, you want to be in a position where any given week, any player on your team can be at the top of your lineup.”
In many ways, collegiate golf varies substantially from any other varsity sport. College golfers enter any given event simultaneously competing as a team, where the lowest aggregate team score determines the winner, and as individuals, where the lowest individual scorer earns first place.
According to Cutler, this stroke play scoring system, as one might see in almost any professional event, remains standard in collegiate golf.
“The national championships will be going to a match-play format in 2015,” Cutler explained. “But this school year, all the events that my team will play in will be stroke play, so they’ll have a chance to compete for individual and team championships at every event.”
Cutler talked about her team’s broad and specific goals for improvement in a sport where competition is unpredictable and margins are incredibly thin.
“Our goal is to get better every day, to play the best golf that we can and to strive for excellence in everything we do,” Cutler said. “The thing about it is you never know from one day to another what score it is going to take to win an event or what your competition is going to do. So we focus on ourselves.”
Whether by match or by stroke, the Princeton men’s and women’s golf teams are still teams in every sense of the term. They have collective goals, work hard in the off-season and share in the camaraderie that pervades Princeton athletics.
Baltusrol, the site of this year’s league championship, is located approximately an hour north of Princeton. This will be the only event in which both the men’s and women’s teams will be playing at the same place and time, but Princeton’s male and female golfers share a particularly strong bond, considering their small numbers and shared practice spaces.
“We take a lot of pride in the fact that our men’s team won. We had a great dinner the evening of the final round of the Ivy League championship when we were both back on campus. It was really fun, and there was a lot of camaraderie between the two teams. We see each other at practice a lot. The players spend a lot of time together on campus socially as well.”
Cutler conceded that at this date in time, she looks forward to the team’s spring break trip to Florida. Incidentally or not, Jarmas agreed on this matter. However, the work of Princeton golf looks foremost toward the Ivy League championship weekend.
“Everything for us points toward the Ivy League championship at the end of this spring,” Cutler said. “It’s going to be at Baltusrol [Golf Club] this year. It’s really exciting for us. We are very much looking forward to playing at Baltusrol. It’s an amazing club with a lot of history. We’re going to be playing the upper-course, which hosted a U.S. Women’s Open. And the men’s and women’s championship will be taking place simultaneously at the same club.”
In spite of the blanket of snow over New Jersey, a simulator and putting green in Dillon Gymnasium allows for mechanical work on campus. According to Cutler, the winter provides an opportunity for ramped-up conditioning and strength programs.
Jarmas places lofty goals for himself, and he looks to win every time he tees up. Yet, he emphasized the process-based approach that Princeton golf follows.
“Having put in the work and the time in the off-season, I feel there’s a certain freedom in going out there and pursuing those goals,” he explained. “And whether they’re achieved or not, there’s no failures if you’ve put the time in and everybody’s done what they can do.”