Cal women’s golf battles Pac-12 opponents in Peg Barnard Invitational

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For Cal students, a new spring semester signals a time for rest and refocus; for Cal women’s golf, it’s a chance to reinvigorate a tough season that ended last November with the Bears placing eighth in a 12-team tournament full of their Pac-12 rivals.

This weekend, the Bears look to redeem themselves as they head to familiar territory to compete in the Peg Barnard Invitational tournament on Saturday and Sunday at Stanford Golf Course. In the 14-team shotgun event, the Bears will send players Morgan Thompson, Hannah Suh, Lucia Gutierrez, Cary Childs and Nicola Rossler to face three Pac-12 opponents: Oregon State, No. 17 Oregon and No. 5 Stanford.

Returning to the familiar 6,727-yard Stanford course comes as a welcome retreat for the Bears, who struggled last fall after finishing first at the Ptarmigan Classic on Sept. 9 and 10 but then falling to 10th- and eighth-place finishes in their last two events of the fall season, including a disappointing finish in a tournament featuring 11 of the Pac-12 teams held in Kona, Hawaii, on Nov. 4 and 5. The Bears played eight competitive rounds in three events at Stanford last season.

“We actually used to call it our home course,” said head coach Nancy McDaniel. “So it feels like our backyard … we can capitalize if we just don’t get too comfortable.”

McDaniel hopes to also capitalize on the success of one of her freshmen, who over the offseason competed in two reputable South American tournaments.

In late January, freshman Lucia Gutierrez claimed first place and the title at the South American Women’s Amateur Championship. Gutierrez captured the prestigious win after finishing 12 over par in the 72-hole tournament (77-79-72-72, 300) in Barranquilla, Colombia.

“Looking into the spring, we’re hopeful that Lucia continues with her great play from Colombia,” McDaniel said. “Anytime a player does something like that … everyone on the team is feeling that commitment.”

The Bears will need all the success Gutierrez and top-performing senior Nicola Rossler can bring, as the team drives into a spring schedule facing some of the fiercest conference play in the nation. With five Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 10, including No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 USC, the younger and more inexperienced Bears will have to come together under their leader and sole senior, Rossler, to make a push for the Pac-12 Championships in April.

“We really embrace it (playing with these teams),” McDaniel said. “We get pretty psyched.”

While the competition this weekend at the Peg Barnard Invitational is not expected to be as tough as what is to come later on in the season, the Bears will still have to score lower than a strong No. 5 Stanford team on its home turf.

“We want to get back there — into the Pac-12 Championship,” McDaniel said. “That’s what we’re working day after day for, that we are ready when the postseason comes and that we’re ready to be in the top.”

Christine Menchaca covers women’s golf. Contact her at [email protected]