The Cal women’s golf team had an impressive fall season, but during the 100 off days that the team has had heading into this weekend’s spring season debut, anything could have happened. At the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge in Palos Verdes, California, we’ll see what side of “everything” the Bears landed on.
The fall season saw the Bears trying to regain ground after they just barely missed out on qualifying for the NCAA Championships for what would have been their third consecutive appearance. In May, at the NCAA regionals, Cal was in control of its own destiny, sitting in sixth place, just enough to qualify for the championships. But after slipping to seventh, the Bears missed their chance and became just another team.
The team has gotten little love from rankings over the last year, finishing outside of the top 25 by the end of the fall season, according to Golfweek. But that does not quite reflect Cal’s overall fall season, which for the most part went very well in putting it back on the path to title contention.
In its last event of the fall, the Pac-12 Previews, Cal had a more than fine day, finishing fifth and ahead of what was the No. 1 school in the nation, UCLA. UCLA is now ranked fifth, and Cal edged out the Bruins by just a point on the day, 906 to 907.
It can’t be qualified as a come-from-behind win considering the overall finish of fifth, but it took some last-day “heroics” to move up ahead of UCLA, shooting a 294 in the last round of the tournament. It was a marked improvement over their performance in the first and second rounds, a 302 and 310 respectively.
Those sorts of explosive performances late in tight tournaments would obviously be a massive asset for the Bears going forward in the season, especially come NCAA Regionals and Championships.
Cal has not participated in this event since 2010, and the grounds at Palos Verdes have not been overly kind to the Bears. In the 2010 edition of the event, Cal came in ranked 10th in the nation, but finished in an embarrassing 11th place in the tournament out of 15 competing schools. The Bears will certainly need a better showing than that to get the spring season started on a note that will allow them to make a surprise run back to the NCAA Championships.
It looks like it will be the young players that propel the Bears forward if they’re hoping for a big improvement. Sophomores Amina Wolf and Marianne Li had incredible performances in par fives during the Pac-12 Previews, helping the Bears to their fifth-place finish. Freshman Jiyoon Jang will also have a lot put on her shoulders during her first spring season with the team. She finished as the 21st player in the tournament and tied with Wolf for the most birdies for the program at the event.
Blowing their chance at a third straight appearance will never stop hurting for the Bears, but if the youth movement can raise the team’s play to their old level, three out of four years wouldn’t be half bad either. We’ll get a chance to see if the young players have it in them this weekend.