Cal men’s golf is heading to Las Vegas to play the UNLV-hosted Southern Highlands Collegiate from March 6 to 8 — but this time, whatever happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas.
The Southern Highlands Collegiate, one of the spring season’s most prestigious tournaments, fields a very strong group of teams, seven of which are ranked — No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Illinois, No. 4 USC, No. 7 Texas Tech, No. 8 Stanford, No. 11 Oklahoma, No. 15 San Diego State and host No. 23 UNLV.
Florida has placed in the top five in every tournament it has played this spring, and in the fall, it placed first at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational, in which which Cal placed last. Illinois placed fourth at its most recent tournament, the Louisiana Classics. Texas Tech and Stanford both tied for fourth at The Prestige, the same tournament at which Oklahoma placed third. USC placed second at the Southwestern Invitational, and San Diego State, after finishing eighth at the same tournament, will be looking for a comeback performance.
But the team that will perhaps pose the stiffest competition for Cal is UNLV. UNLV, which placed third at the John A. Burns Intercollegiate, a tournament at which Cal tied for fifth earlier this season, also placed second at its most recent tournament, the National Invitational Tournament. Despite its low ranking, UNLV is not to be underestimated, especially not at the Southern Highlands Collegiate, where it is on its home turf.The Runnin’ Rebels will certainly be eyeing a top-three placement at its homecoming game.
The Bears’ spring season, for the most part, has been far better than their fall season. Cal netted a sixth-place finish at its first tournament of the spring, the Arizona Intercollegiate, and it placed fifth at the John A. Burns Intercollegiate, its highest placement of either the fall or the spring. But the Bears faltered last weekend at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate, where poor putting and a underwhelming short game — something the Bears have struggled with throughout both seasons — relegated them to a 14th-place finish.
It is easy to write off Cal, especially after the fall season dropped them from a No. 11 ranking to unranked after three straight eighth-place finishes and a last place finish. Comparing the Bears’ current performance to previous seasons’ performances is unfair — three of Cal’s best players are out this season, either injured or redshirting, and in the fall, the Bears were left with a very new and inexperienced team.
But the fall season forced these new players to hone their skills on the tournament fields themselves — a sort of high-stakes on-the-job training. This spring, those skills are paying off, especially with the Bears’ relatively high placements in their first two tournaments. The Querencia Cabo Collegiate was a massive misstep, but writing off the team entirely is a mistake.
Most of the Bears are not as skilled or experienced as the teams that schools such as Oklahoma and Florida field, but Cal’s younger players bring a lot of maverick spirit to tournaments, and that’s exactly what Cal needs. Although the Bears will probably not earn a high placement at the Southern Highlands Collegiate, it will provide them with valuable elite tournament experience that Cal can use in tournaments in the future. The Bears are not going to suddenly rise to the national championships, but with the confidence the players learned in the tournaments of the fall season, they can certainly work their way back to the leaderboard.
Maya Rao covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected]