Oaks Christian's Catherine Rao is The Star's Girls Golfer of the Year for 2021 fall season

·5 min read

The third shot was a 9-iron from the fairway, 116 yards away from the pin.

The fog had rolled in at the famed Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, which left Catherine Rao playing blind.

But the Oaks Christian School senior had a plan.

“Walking in from the other side, I saw there was a hill there (behind the green),” Rao said. “I was just going to play it safe and hit the hill.”

That’s how Rao eagled the final hole of her high school career — holing out her third shot of the par 5 — to finish third at the CIF-State Girls Golf Championships in November.

“Heard my mom yell,” Rao said. “And my mom never screams. … I was honestly more confused than anything.

“It was a very dramatic way to go out.”

After not being able to participate in the postseason as a sophomore or junior, the Princeton University commit was focused on making a run to the state tournament as a senior.

Oaks Christian's Catherine Rao capped her high school career by finishing third in the state tournament.
Oaks Christian's Catherine Rao capped her high school career by finishing third in the state tournament.

“A lot of it was getting to actually experience state my senior year,” Rao said.

The two-time Marmonte League Player of the Year is now The Star’s Girls Golfer of the Year for the 2021 fall season.

“What sticks with me is her determination, her drive to be so good and to be the so-called best,” Oaks Christian head coach John Geiberger said. “She’s always pushing herself. That’s what golf is about. It’s a blend of your body and your mind against the game.”

Rao is one of the top junior golfers in the country. The 17-year-old from Camarillo is currently ranked No. 29 in the American Junior Golf Association Rankings and has spent time in the top 10.

Last month, she was named a Rolex Junior All-American and Scholastic All-American.

She was also part of the Wyndham Cup West and PING Junior Solheim Cup U.S. teams earlier this year.

Rao met golfing legend Annika Sorenstam at the Solheim Cup in Sylvania, Ohio.

After the Sorenstam complimented her putting, Rao replied, “My career has peaked. I’m ready to go home.”

“I’ve never been so starstruck,” said Rao.

Rao began playing at 10, partially due to her family’s proximity to Spanish Hills Country Club.

“I can’t run, I can’t catch and I can’t throw so that doesn’t really leave a lot of options,” she said with a laugh. “I like that it’s not just a physical game, but a huge part of it is mental.”

She didn’t take to the game at first, but she was hooked by the adrenaline rush of her first tournaments. She remembers shooting a 29 over nine holes at Rustic Canyon as an 11-year-old.

“That was the moment I was like, ‘Wow, I’m actually good at golf,’ ” Rao said.

Now she rarely spends a day away from the course.

“She’s got a high standard and she expects a lot out of herself and she works extremely hard,” Geiberger said. “It’s fun to see somebody this age with those standards.”

The future Ivy League student has earned a 4.8 GPA and is the arts prefect at Oaks Christian.

Catherine Rao will head to Princeton University after finishing a tremendous high school career on the golf course and in the classroom at Oaks Christian.
Catherine Rao will head to Princeton University after finishing a tremendous high school career on the golf course and in the classroom at Oaks Christian.

“I’m really competitive in all aspects of life,” Rao said. “I’m that way with school and art, too.”

Rao typically used the high school season to work on her swing.

“It’s technically my offseason,” Rao said. “I work on mechanics for spring and see how it translates on the course.”

But there was added weight to her senior season after a junior year truncated by the pandemic.

Leading Oaks Christian to an undefeated Marmonte League championship, Rao was named Marmonte League Player of the Year for the second straight season.

She won the league’s individual title by shooting a two-round 146 at the league championships.

Rao shot a 2-under 68 to earn co-medalist honors at the Northern Regional Individual Tournament at Los Robles Greens Golf Course on Oct. 27.

Her 67 also shared the medal at the CIF-SS Division 2 team tournament on Nov. 2 at Jurupa Hills Country Club in Riverside.

She shot a 2-under 70 to finish seventh at the CIF-SS Individual Championships and SCGA Qualifying Tournament on Nov. 4 at River Ridge Golf Course in Oxnard.

She booked her ticket to the state tournament by winning a four-way playoff after finishing ninth with a 1-under 72 at the CIF-State SoCal Girls Golf Championships on Nov. 11 at Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena.

At the state tournament, Rao shot a 2-under-par 69 to finished in third place, just a shot away from state champion Leigh Chien of University.

“It was a chaotic round to say the least,” Rao said.

Starting on the 10th hole, Rao began her round with a pair of birdies and was among the leaders at 3-under through the front nine.

But the fog rolled in as she started the back nine.

“I was hitting into everything blind,” Rao said.

Three bogeys on the back nine left her even entering her final hole, the ninth.

After hitting the fairway off the tee and laying up, Rao took a half-swing with a 9-iron into the fog.

“I had a great perspective at it,” Geiberger said. “Right when she hit it, I said, ‘That might go in.’ ”

The Star's Girls Golf Second Team

  • Joanna Hong, Oak Park

  • Jennifer Liu, Westlake

  • Charlotte Sams, Newbury Park

  • Willow Williams, Nordhoff

  • Lexie Kehoe, Nordhoff

  • Johanna Nio, Oaks Christian

  • Lillian Pratt, Agoura

  • Sarah Aliolli, Royal

  • Claire Kim, Rio Mesa

Joe Curley is a staff reporter for The Star. He can be reached at joe.curley@vcstar.com. For more coverage of local high school sports, follow @vcspreps on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Oaks Christian's Catherine Rao is The Star's Girls Golfer of the Year

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