Talented field awaits Cal women’s golf in SoCal

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The Cal women’s golf team heads to the deadly den of the other big bear — Bruins territory —  on Monday to compete in the Bruin Wave Invitational at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif.

The two-day, 54-hole event in Southern California features some of the toughest, most unyielding competition Cal has yet to face this season, including seven Pac-12 opponents and six teams ranked in the top 15 of the nation. No. 1 USC and No. 2 UCLA lead an elite field with No. 4 Washington, No. 9 Arizona, No. 11 Pepperdine and No. 12 Oklahoma.

The Bears will send Nicola Rossler, Lucia Gutierrez, Hannah Suh, Carly Childs and Jo Ee Kok to Los Angeles to face the cream of women’s collegiate golf, including individually ranked No. 1 Annie Park of USC and No. 3 Alison Lee of UCLA.

For a young Cal team that has bounced back and forth this season between mediocrity and greatness, the challenging field offers a chance for the Bears to firmly establish themselves as a real contender in the Pac-12.

“We’re never fazed (about the competition),” said head coach Nancy McDaniel. “We’ve been there before (in first place), and USC is there now. It just depends on the year.”

The 6,173-yard, par-72 course is new territory for the Bears who will play at the El Caballero Country Club for the very first time Monday.

“We’re thinking about the rain,” McDaniel said. “There will be some fast greens out there. It’s all about hitting our shots.”

In order to drive in those shots and earn a solid top-five finish, the Bears desperately need a strong performance from their fourth- and fifth-seed players. Throughout the 2013-14 season, the Bears have been plagued by uneven team performances, often with only one to two players finishing in the top 20 individually, with the rest often finishing much lower in the standings.

McDaniel hopes to remedy the situation Monday by adding junior Kok to the tournament roster substituting in place of regular player Morgan Thompson, who has played in all but one tournament this season.

“We’re still figuring things out,” McDaniel said. “We’re taking it one tournament at a time.”

The Bears head to Southern California coming off a fourth-place finish in their last tournament at Stanford on Feb. 15 and 16. The Peg Barnard Invitational was a hit and miss for the Bears, who suffered from a slow start on their first round of play but came back in the second round to finish with two players in the top 20. Despite the solid efforts of players such as Gutierrez, who finished sixth individually for the tournament, the Bears were thoroughly defeated by their Pac-12 rival No. 5 Stanford who took the win.

As for another Pac-12 rival, the Bruins, along with USC, are highly favored over Cal to take the tournament win this week.

“Bring it on,” McDaniel said.

Christine Menchaca covers women’s golf. Contact her at daily cal sports.