Cal men’s golf fails to impress at ASU Thunderbird Invitational

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Cal men’s golf was supposed to win, or at least impress.

The ASU Thunderbird Invitational hosted a significantly less competitive field than the Bears’ other tournaments this spring, and the team as a whole had dramatically improved since the fall. But a disappointing third round instead dropped Cal four places to eighth at the end of the invitational, a middling placement for what was supposed to be the Bears’ best opportunity of the season.

It hosted a relatively uncompetitive field, especially compared to some of the Bears’ earlier tournaments — the only ranked team featured was No. 18 UNLV, which Cal had already faced twice this spring. Despite the fact that the tournament was not as prestigious as some of Cal’s other tournaments, such as the Southern Highlands Collegiate or the Querencia Cabo Collegiate, both of which hosted several ranked teams, a high placement at the Thunderbird Invitational would certainly have given the Bears a strong chance of making the regional championships.

The Bears were in a strong position after the first two rounds, ending the first day with a 554 (-14). The players all had solid performances — in fact, the worst-counted score between both rounds was redshirt freshman Sean Yu’s 144 (+2), good for 42nd on the first day.

The players all had excellent first rounds, with two golfers shooting under par and one shooting even. The Bears generally scored worse in the second round than they did in the first, but they still maintained their level of performance well enough to secure fourth place for Cal by the end of the second round.

Then, the third round ended their chance of a spirit-boosting top finish.

Most of the golfers shot over par, with Yu shooting a 79 (+8) to drop to 63rd. Sophomore Tanner Hughes shot a 72 (+1) to end in a tie with freshman Finigan Tilly, who shot a 77 (+6), for 37th. Redshirt sophomore Ben Doyle shot a 77 (+6) as well, ending up in 77th place. The only player who improved his placement from the first day to the second was the always steady sophomore Collin Morikawa.

Morikawa, who is currently ranked fourth nationally by Golfstat, was in third place after the first two rounds, even after shooting the lowest total of his collegiate career, a 131 (-11). Although Morikawa’s performance worsened in the third round — he shot a 69 (-2), as opposed to his previous 65 (-6) and 66 (-5) rounds — the other top players’ similarly declining performances secured Morikawa’s first collegiate win.

“I knew my game was ready,” Morikawa said. “I knew that if I played well today, I would be able to hopefully win. Luckily, I just stuck to the game plan and executed fine coming down the stretch.”

But even Morikawa’s first-place finish was not enough to redeem the team. The performances of the rest of the Bears dropped Cal four places to eighth — behind fellow unranked teams such as Iowa State, Arizona State and even Arizona State’s B-team, which managed to take third place overall.

Morikawa said the team was committed to qualifying for the competition, but Cal’s subpar performance will only make it harder for the Bears to do so. Cal only has a couple of tournaments left in the spring, giving the team an extremely short time frame in which to prove itself worthy.

“We need to make the regional championships,” Morikawa said. “But we’re running out of time.”

Maya Rao covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected]