Cal men’s golf is looking for redemption.
The Bears had an extremely disappointing season last season. Ranked No. 11 at the beginning of the fall season, Cal seemed to be destined for victory from the start. That victory never arrived.
At their first tournament, the Gopher Invitational, the Bears played one of their worst first rounds, scoring 303 (+19) to end up in 13th place. Although the team was able to pull itself up to 8th at the end of the tournament, the damage was done. Cal placed 8th at the next two tournaments, the Maui Jim Collegiate and its homecoming game, the Alister MacKenzie Invitational, before securing last place at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational, one of the most prestigious collegiate golf tournaments. In the last tournament of the season, the Ryder Cup-style Cypress Point Classic, Cal won one game and lost two to place sixth out of eight teams.
The Bears were especially hard hit with the departure of three key players — juniors KK Limbhasut and Sebastian Crampton and sophomore Jamie Cheatham. Limbhasut and Crampton redshirted last season and will redshirt this season as well to prepare for the Haas School of Business. Cheatham was out because of an injury and is currently recovering, but it is unclear whether he will play this season.
After Limbhasut, Crampton and Cheatham left, newer team members — some of whom did not have any collegiate golf experience before being slated into the lineups — had to step up to the plate, so to speak. Without previous exposure to the high-pressure, high-stakes environment of collegiate tournaments, the young players, understandably, floundered.
This trial by fire for Cal’s more inexperienced players, however, may prove beneficial to the team this season. Last season, Cal head coach Walter Chun spoke extensively about how the tournaments were a learning experience for newer players, such as freshman Devin Hua, who actually made his collegiate debut at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational.
Two of the players that were new to the course last semester, sophomore Tanner Hughes and redshirt freshman William Aldred, are poised to become this season’s stars. Aldred and Hughes, both very talented but very inexperienced at the start of last season, saw their games improve tremendously over the course of the fall season; they shot some of the highest scores on the team at the beginning of the season, but shot the team’s lowest at Tavistock. Hughes has already improved his game, dramatically winning the Saguaro Amateur earlier this year, and both he and Aldred made the lineup for the Bears’ first tournament of the season.
Also on the lineup is Cal’s star player, sophomore Collin Morikawa. Morikawa, one of the only experienced players on the team last season, basically carried the team through several tough tournaments in the fall. Currently ranked the No. 3 amateur player in the world, the Bears need Morikawa in top form to return the team to its former glory.
Cal has historically been a top-ranking team. The Bears won one team NCAA championship in 2004 and conference championships in 2012 and 2013. Although Cal is not near being able to compete on such a high-playing field right now, with the experience the younger players gained from last season, the Bears might have a real shot at re-establishing its dominance over collegiate golf once again.
Maya Rao covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected]