NEWS FROM THE TOUR VANS
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There are few golf bags that stand out as unique pieces of equipment, but one at this past week’s U.S. Amateur took us by surprise.
It’s an all-white Princeton University outfit with black trim. On one side, black lettering reads: “First Lieutenant Victor Edward Prato 82nd ABN DIV.”
Despite Prato’s name being on it, the bag belonged to Princeton golfer Jackson Fretty last week as he played in his first U.S. Amateur just 52 miles northeast of the school’s campus. What makes this bag so meaningful is that it doesn’t stay in the possession of one Tiger player.
The idea was inspired by Prato, a 2015 Princeton graduate and former football player who joined the military as an engineering officer and platoon leader. In November 2017, during his first week as a platoon leader in Afghanistan, Prato’s convoy was struck by a suicide vehicle-borne IED (improvised explosive device) during what was thought to be a routine road clearance for other platoons following.
Prato, who was awarded the Purple Heart, endured a devastating spinal-cord injury. He had to suffer through rigorous rehab, spending time in five hospitals and having multiple surgeries. In a long struggle that continues to this day, Prato went through outpatient therapy and started to regain function of his hands while learning to walk with a walker.
“A few months after I was injured, I definitely saw the impermanence of life in a very real and concrete way,” Prato told the Princeton University website after his accident. “It changed my mind a lot about the fears that I had of failure and trying to create the perfect future.”
In 2019, the Princeton golf team decided to honor Prato’s inspiring story, channeling his bravery as a rally cry. The bag that was made gets rotated among different players, a badge of honor for a deserving Tiger who has put in the work to get better. When Fretty qualified for the U.S. Am, the bag went to him.
Fretty shot 76-73 and missed the match-play cut, but just getting to the tournament shined more of a light on Prato’s story for every person who walked by and asked for the background behind the nameplate.
On the more traditional side, there were a couple of gear observations we jotted down from roaming Ridgewood Country Club last week.
One was the ubiquity of utility irons and the absence of hybrids. The utility irons have a larger head and a wide sole that provides a lower, more penetrating ball flight. Some players can blast them 250 yards or more, a huge advantage given how accurate these driving irons can be. With Ridgewood’s rough at U.S. Open levels, being in the fairway proved to be paramount. One weapon we spotted being used effectively was a 22-degree Callaway X-Forged UT iron from Travis Vick.
Speaking of Vick, it took us a moment to process all of the brands represented in his stroke-play threesome. Vick had an Odyssey hat, a mix of Ping and Callaway clubs and Travis Mathew apparel, a brand owned by Callaway. There hasn’t been an official NIL announcement, but Vick was given a Callaway staff bag during a practice round in the U.S. Open, and his coach, Adam Porzak, has a Callaway affiliation.
Vick’s playing competitor Austin Greaser had a TaylorMade hat and a full bag of the brand’s clubs while sporting Adidas apparel, as he did last summer during his U.S. Am run. The last member of the threesome, eventual champion Sam Bennett, had a full Ping bag and a hat from a sponsor called Suncast. The Illinois-based company designs, manufactures and distributes outdoor furniture and storage units, among other products. Bennett also wore Johnnie-O apparel throughout the championship.
It’s the new normal at summer amateur events. A plethora of players were showing off brands instead of school colors.
And finally, a wedge stamping that made us laugh: Luke Potter’s 60-degree Vokey lob wedge had “I’m the reason Waldo is hiding” adorning the back of the clubhead.