Heading into the final day of the NCAA Shoal Creek Regionals last spring, the Cal women’s golf team was in sixth place — exactly where it needed to be to qualify for the NCAA Championships later in May. But things quickly fell apart for the Bears. After consecutive days of tallying 307s (+19), Cal’s golfers scored a 310 in the final round of the regional.
On a day when the Bears needed to step up their game to clinch a berth in the NCAA Championships, they had their worst showing of the tournament. Cal would finish seventh out of 18 teams in its regional, just one spot away from qualifying for its third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Championships.
Now, coming off a season characterized by near miss after near miss, Cal needs to look for a way to recover. The Bears will get their first chance to do so Monday, when their season starts with a competition at the Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Despite the heartbreak that ended the team’s run at Shoal Creek, then-freshman Marianne Li made a mark. She tied for first in the regional, reaching the NCAAs where she could compete as an individual. Li ended up tied for 58th as an individual by stroking a five-over-par score after struggling to finish with a strong final round.
Now, Li will return to a Cal squad that desperately needs her to patch up those late-round issues and to be the team’s driving force in the new season. With the accomplished Hannah Suh having played out her eligibility, the up-and-coming Li’s role will be even bigger in the coming year. Along with senior Lucia Gutierrez, Li will be relied upon to lead an inconsistent Bears team back to an appearance at the NCAA Championships.
Gutierrez herself was the epitome of last season’s Cal team. She had more rounds at or under par than anyone on the team but didn’t string enough of them together to tally many great individual finishes — Gutierrez only finished within the top 10 as an individual one time last season.
Cal’s head coach, Nancy McDaniel, will certainly hope that Li and Gutierrez can play key parts in the team’s success. They are likely to be the Bears’ mainstays from tournament to tournament, while the remainder of the lineup is more of a question mark.
Given the state of flux in which Cal finds itself, the fall season will be especially useful for the team, giving it the chance to find other candidates to take big steps forward. While spring has most of the sport’s most important events, fall provides unsteady and uncertain teams, such as the Bears, valuable experience and opportunities to carve out a go-to lineup once the bigger tournaments roll around. Junior Marthe Wold and sophomore Amina Wolf definitely have the potential to fill those roles beside Gutierrez and Li.
Wold, the only returning player other than Li and Gutierrez to have been the Bears’ top individual finisher at an event, has already been given chances to shine and has done a solid job in those opportunities. But if Cal wants to reach the heights and the relevance it achieved just two years ago, it will need Wold to be more consistent. While her average score last season was just .1 off Suh, the outgoing senior recorded eight rounds under or at par, as compared to only three for Wold.
As for Wolf, she didn’t get many opportunities last season but seems poised to be next in line to find a regular spot in the lineup after playing decently in those few chances.
For the Bears, experiencing turnover within the lineup could be the sort of thing that only exasperates their inconsistency issues. The fall season, however, gives them the ability to sort out those issues months before their focus can shift to the late-round troubles that marred Cal’s performance in last season’s postseason.