The Cal men’s golf team wanted to win an NCAA title this year. Even though that did not happen, the Bears’ season was far from a disappointment.
The Bears fell to No. 1-seeded Alabama Saturday afternoon in the NCAA match play semifinals at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
After the first three days of competition, the Bears were tied for fourth place out of the best 25 teams in the country. The top eight teams from the first three days advanced to the match play rounds.
Friday’s match play quarterfinals paired the Bears with the other fourth-seeded team, San Diego State.
After sophomore Brandon Hagy and junior Max Homa lost the opening two matches against the Aztecs, the Bears rallied to win three straight and advance to the semifinals. Joel Stalter sank a 20-foot putt on the 17th green to give the Bears the match.
Sunday’s rounds would not be as friendly for the young Cal team. The Bears fell behind Alabama early and did not lead in the entire match. Homa and freshman Michael Kim were able to pull off comebacks in their rounds, but Hagy and Pace Johnson both dropped to their Crimson Tide opponent.
On the 17th hole, Stalter was faced with a familiar situation: a 20-foot putt in a must-win situation for the second day in a row. His putt looked straight but tailed off at the last second.
“I thought it was going in,” Stalter said about his putt on the par-five 17th. “It looked good, but it had a little too much speed. It could have gone in but somehow it lipped out.”
As Stalter matched his opponent with par on the 17th hole, Johnson finished on the 18th, unable to mount a comeback.
On the 18th hole, Stalter had his entire team on his back. The sophomore needed to win the hole just to push the match to an extra hole. After a tee shot went wide, Stalter hit a perfect approach shot that hooked nearly 30 feet around a group of trees and came to rest on the green 12 feet from the hole. He was unable to make the putt, and the Bears triumph-filled season came to an end.
“What an incredible match,” coach Steve Desimone said. “Win or lose, I’m proud of the way my guys played. They never quit; they never gave an inch. We’re disappointed, but it was fun to watch, I’ll tell you that.”
All five Cal golfers finished in the top 100 on the stroke play leaderboard. Although Homa’s ninth place finish led the squad, the team’s depth is a testament to the team’s success. Hagy had Cal’s second-best individual finish, coming in tied for 45th overall.
Desimone watched some holes through his binoculars as he accompanied his players on the course. His face was unable to hide his excitement as the Bears mounted their attempt at a comeback.
“You’ve got to give Alabama credit because we closed in on them,” Desimone said, “especially over the last four or five holes. But they hung tough. We just couldn’t quite catch them, and that’s the way golf goes sometimes.”