Cal men’s golf is going to the ‘ship.
The Bears barely snuck into fourth place at the NCAA Regional in Tucson, Arizona. This granted them one of the final bids to the NCAA Championships scheduled for May 27 to June 1 at the Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Oregon.
The squad sat in fifth place after day one on Monday at The Gallery Golf Club in Marana, Arizona, and managed to retain that pivotal fifth spot for the subsequent 36 holes.
But the Bears as a team almost blew it. Entering the final nine holes of the tournament Wednesday, Cal held a six-stroke lead over Wake Forest and North Florida, only to see it vanish midway through the back nine. A handful of bogeys from the Bears and three clutch eagles from Demon Deacon propelled Wake Forest ahead of the Bears.
Cal — recognizing that this is head coach Steve Desimone’s 37th and final year at the helm of the program — mustered what they had left in the tank to card two birdies on the 17th hole followed by three birdies on the final hole of the regional. The Bears entered the final two holes of the tournament tied with North Florida and three strokes behind Wake Forest, as the three schools competed for two NCAA Championship berths. Cal’s four scoring players played the last two holes three under par while Wake Forest and North Florida played them one over par and two over par, respectively. On 17, Cal sophomore KK Limbhasut and senior Shotaro Ban both made birdies, as Limbhasut drained a 35-foot birdie putt. Freshman Jamie Cheatham and sophomore Sebastian Crampton made pars to bring the Bears within a stroke of Wake Forest.
Then, on the final hole of the tournament, Ban and Cheatham made clutch birdies. Crampton finished with a bogey, but Limbhasut made par to bring Cal even with Wake Forest to secure the final bid to the NCAA Championships.
In front of the Bears and the Demon Deacons came third-place UAB at 857(-7), runner-up Oregon at 847(-17) and Stanford, which obliterated the field, finishing the three rounds at the Gallery at 833(-31). Cardinal sophomore Franklin Huang earned the top individual medal, stringing together three rounds in the 60s (67,69,68) to finish at 204 (-12). Junior Maverick McNealy followed suit as he finished second individually with a score of 206 (-10). Stanford, the No. 1 ranked team nationally, will be a favorite in Eugene.
The NCAA Championships will consist of 54 holes of stroke-play beginning with the opening round Friday, May 27, followed by a subsequent 18 holes each on Saturday and Sunday mornings. If Cal qualifies at that point, it will enter an eight-team match-play tournament. The quarterfinals would be Monday, with the semifinals Tuesday and the championship match Wednesday.
Though Cal barely qualified for the NCAA Championships, the team will have a week to rest and prepare for the final event of the season. On top of that, the team will lack no motivation as it strives to end Desimone’s legendary coaching career on a high note.
Alex Heuer covers men’s golf. Contact him at [email protected]