In a regular season matchup of the nation’s top-ranked teams, the Cal women’s golf team travels to the prestigious Nanea Golf Club in Kona, Hawaii, to compete in the Pac-12 Preview. The field is made up of 11 Pac-12 teams — five of which rank in the top-10 in the nation — in addition to the University of Hawaii.
No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 USC are fully expected to dominate the event. After winning all three postseason events, sweeping the Pac-12, NCAA West Regional and NCAA Championships to end the 2013 season, the Trojans are looking for their record-breaking seventh consecutive victory. For the first time this season, USC coach Andrea Gaston will be starting the same starting five, featuring four All-Americans, who won the 2013 national title.
This is the first time in Nanea Golf Course’s 10-year history that it will be opening its doors for a nonmember tournament. The 54-hole shotgun event on the par-72, 6,112-yard course is the last match of the fall season. Despite it being built on steep and inhospitable terrain, the course is one of the finest in the nation. It is designed after the Kona Island’s five volcanoes, carved from a mountainside lined with lava rock before dropping into the Pacific Ocean.
The Pac-12 coaches decided that a conference matchup to end the fall season made sense for multiple reasons. Most importantly, it meets the requirement that each team must face every conference opponent at least once in the regular season. But it also provides a preview as well as fierce competition for a loaded Pac-12 conference featuring three of the top five teams in the nation.
Judging from their last performance at the Stanford Intercollegiate, the Bears are up against the odds at the upcoming tournament. Cal (292-289-297 — 878, +26) was left with more questions than answers after a disappointing 10th-place finish a week ago. Placing 16th overall, the Bears were led by senior Nicola Rossler, the only player on the team to place in the top-20.
USC and UCLA placed first and second, respectively. Both teams have consistently been winning all of their stroke-play events. The difference in ability between the two teams and Cal was evident as the first-placed Trojans beat the Bears by more than 40 strokes.
Rossler finished first for Cal, followed by sophomore Hannah Suh (218, +5), freshman Lucia Gutierrez (224, +11) and sophomores Carly Childs (225, +12) and Morgan Thompson (229, +16). This was Rossler’s second top-20 performance in three matches after a top-five finish at the Ptarmigan Classic. She was the model of consistency, shooting two under par for a 69-stroke performance on the first day. She followed it up with hitting par on all but one of her holes the next day to finish with a one-under performance, good enough for a 16th-place finish.
The Bears are long shots to win the Pac-12 Preview. As USC and UCLA are expected to run away with the competition, all Cal can hope for is another top-10 finish in a loaded field filled with top-ranked teams. But the game provides the Bears a measuring stick against the best teams in the nation.
Winston Cho covers golf. Contact him at [email protected]