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Way to Go, Dad!

Bloomfield (August 19, 2020) The greatest challenge in golf, one old golf instructor used to say, is not a long-iron shot over water. It’s playing in competition with someone you love.

Forty-nine groups took that challenge at Tumble Brook Country Club in the 84th Connecticut Father Son Championship Wednesday, with some meeting the challenge more successfully than others. 

No one matched Jackson Fretty, a star at Greenwich and now at Princeton, and his dad Steve, a 7.9 handicap at Greenwich Country Club. They shot 71 (-1) in the difficult modified alternate-shot format, with Steve making a slippery 4-footer to save par at the par-5 17th, and keep the team under par. They were the only team, in fact, that bettered par at Tumble Brook, which, thanks to some difficult hole locations and a breeze that complicated shot-selection, suppressed birdies and encouraged three-putts. One team had a four-putt and a five-putt back to back and were still talking to one another when they came up 18. There was none of that for the Frettys.

“We hammed and egged it pretty well,” said Jackson. “We made some clutch par saves…and…” continued Steve, “You made a couple of long birdie putts.” Jackson nodded. “Yep, I made a 25-footer on 11 and that was big.” It was the team’s third birdie and gave them a two-shot cushion over three teams in at even par, a cushion reduced to one when they bogeyed the 357-yard, par-4 16th. 

In the Father Son format, both team members hit tee shots, then chose one ball and play alternately from that point on. It’s a game designed to fray family ties. 

For Jackson, who has won many individual and team events at Greenwich High and in both Connecticut and Met competition, it was particularly gratifying, he said, to win the first non-club event with his father, who has sometimes caddied for him. It was also a test of young Fretty’s new more positive approach to competitive golf, something he’s worked on in his freshman year at Princeton. Their save at 17 and a dart that Jackson hit to 15 feet on the par-3 18th assured victory, even when Steve’s birdie try came up an inch short. 

By then they were aware, thanks to online scoring, that three teams had already finished at even par, including the defending champions Ben and Brian Jessen of the eClub of Connecticut and the Horvaths of Manchester Country Club, Len and Greg, who have now finished second in the Father Son at least three times, the last being two years ago at Wampanoag. Also at level par were Jason and Matt Burrill of Rockledge Country Club, whose bogey at the final hole kept them from red figures. Dick and Shepard Tuttle Stevens were one over and three teams, Derek and Nick Waddington, Jim and Michael Clark and Rob and Kevin Josephson were two over. 

The Horvaths thought that the lack of scores under par was understandable. “We caught a pretty good breeze on the back nine,” said Greg. “And [the course] was as long as it could be,” added dad Len. “They were not easy pins. They were tucked in tough places on shorter holes. Our problem was, we didn’t make any long birdies.”

The Frettys' three birdies, on holes 5, 9 and 11, two of them long putts, made them the exception. A family  appetite for competition also helped.

“Both of my parents are extremely competitive and that definitely is instilled in me, how to get fiery, ” said Jackson. “I remember a guy was talking to [professional golfer] Justin Thomas’s dad and says, ‘Hey, your son gets pretty angry out there. Are you upset about that?’ And Justin Thomas’s dad goes, ‘I’d rather have that than him get sad, because at least he’ll get himself fired up.’

Fretty has often shown that fire in competition, sometimes to his detriment. The Father Son victory Wednesday was a chance to reflect on recent progress in that department.

“I’ve come a long way with my mental game,” said Jackson, his father nodding. “Once I got to school, I was able to work with a sports psychologist through the athletic department, Dr. Mike Gross. “And that’s been huge. It was the first time I’ve ever worked with a sports psychologist. You learn how to really put things in perspective, like, it is really just one shot at a time. People will tell you that as you grow up but you don’t really learn how to do it until you hear it the right way.”

Steve Fretty, an investment banker and competitive tennis player, smiled, because one of the great things about playing in the Father Son Championship is being with your son when he discovers things like that.