Usually, when the top-ranked teams in the nation come together to compete, they are battling for a national championship.
It may still be the first phase of the season, but the Cal men’s golf team will face championship-level competition starting on Sunday.
The Isleworth Collegiate Invitational will host 14 teams from Sunday to Tuesday, nine of which are ranked top-20 nationally. The Windermere, Fla., event is the last of the Bears’ fall tournaments before they take a hiatus and regroup for the crucial spring championship season.
The autumn events are no laughing matter however, as they are just as significant to teams’ rankings and can provide opportunities for valuable growing experience for the players.
This is exactly what the Isleworth Collegiate had in mind. The tournament originated in 2004 as a way to give players a PGA-like experience. The par-72, 7,554-yard course is extremely prestigious and home to many world-renowned golfers.
“This is basically an NCAA Championship,” coach Steve Desimone said. “We have been playing ahead of expectations to start the season, so I think we will perform very well.”
No. 1- ranked Oklahoma State is the only team in the field that the No. 19 Bears have faced already this season. The two teams met at the Golfweek Conference Challenge where Cal finished fifth and Oklahoma State finished third, with an 11-stroke difference separating the teams.
The Bears will also have to reckon with No. 4 Alabama, the defending tournament champion, No. 6 Florida, and No. 8 Augusta State, the two-time defending national champions. And these are only teams in the top 10. Considering the top 20 rankings will add four more teams to the mix.
“We can play with all kinds of teams,” junior Max Homa said. “And as long as we keep our confidence and stay positive we can hang with anyone.”
Intimidating as these rankings may be, the Bears are heading to Florida with a lot of confidence after tying No. 2 Oregon to win last week’s Alister MacKenzie Invitational. Along with the team victory, Cal’s Homa placed second individually and Michael Kim tied for third. The whole squad had strong overall performances, and four of the five will constitute the starting lineup at Isleworth. Pace Johnson will rejoin the lineup after being substituted by Jeff Hamm at the MacKenzie.
“We are all coming into the tournament with a lot of confidence,” Homa said. “We have that taste of winning and it gives us extra motivation.”
While the task is daunting, it is also exciting. The team gets to travel to Florida to compete with some of the best golf teams in the nation on one of the best golf courses in the nation. They may also be in the presence of one of the best players in the world — a certain local who will likely be out cheering on a certain red-hued squad.
“I would be surprised if Tiger wasn’t there,” Desimone said. “I can’t wait to give him a high five and say, ‘GO BEARS!’”