Cal men’s golf is back, and it’s back in a big way.
The Bears landed in Tucson, Ariz. yesterday for the Arizona Intercollegiate, their first tournament of the season, and are already setting a high bar for the competition. After Day 1, Cal stands in second place with a score of +20, beaten only by No. 20 Oregon, which earned a score of +16.
After the disappointment of last season, during which the Bears fell from No. 11 to unranked after three straight eighth place finishes, followed by a devastating last-place finish at the prestigious Tavistock Collegiate Invitational, all hope of Cal domination over men’s golf seemed to have been lost. Without several of the team’s key players, including juniors KK Limbhasut and Sebastian Crampton, as well as sophomore Jamie Cheatham, Cal’s younger players had to step up and take the field.
These new players, who had very limited, if any, collegiate golf experience, were thrown onto the course and into a circuit of extremely competitive tournaments. It was cutthroat, high-stakes competition right from the get-go, and the players were exposed to more pressure than they presumably ever had to face before.
But the benefits of the trial by fire that many of Cal’s newer players were forced through last season are already paying off this spring. Redshirt freshman William Aldred, one of these newer players, is currently tied for second place with Andre Garcia of New Mexico and is leading the Bears at the Arizona Intercollegiate.
All of Cal’s players did relatively well the first day. Sophomores Tanner Hughes, who won the Saguaro Amateur tournament earlier this year, and Collin Morikawa, currently ranked the No. 3 amateur player in the world, are both tied for 16th with Norman Xiong of Oregon, Aaron Whalen of Washington State and Andrew Paysse of Texas A&M. Redshirt freshman Sean Yu, a returning player who did not compete in the fall season, ranked 33rd, and freshman Finigan Tilly, a mid-year enrollee from San Carlos, is ranked 57th. As Cal’s individual player in the tournament, junior Clayton Madey, also played fairly well, placing 21st out of 30 players overall.
The Arizona Intercollegiate is a perfect tournament in which to stage a comeback. The tournament does not host particularly competitive teams — with the exception of No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 20 Oregon — which makes it a great practice tournament for the Bears. Going straight into a tournament like the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational could have easily intimidated many players — especially with the memory of last season seared into their memories — causing them to lose focus and misstep again. The Arizona Intercollegiate is just competitive enough that a win or a high placement will give the players a sense of confidence and self-assuredness that will help their game in the coming season.
The tournament isn’t over yet, but if the Bears play the third round like they played the first two, Cal will certainly place high and perhaps even beat Oregon to secure first place.
This team, which has for the most part gained its experience through a kind of adversity, sets a new tone for the season — one that is hopeful, one that is looking for redemption, one that is ready to win.
Maya Rao covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected]