In what is basically its last chance to make the NCAA Regional Championships, Cal men’s golf is heading to Santa Cruz this weekend to play the San Jose State-hosted Western Intercollegiate.
The Bears showed early improvement this season from the fall, earning sixth place at the Arizona Intercollegiate and tying fifth at the John A. Burns Intercollegiate, both relatively difficult tournaments. But the Bears stumbled into the same trap this spring as they did in the fall, as two extremely difficult tournaments stopped them in their tracks.
Cal ended up in 14th place at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate and 12th at the Southern Highlands Collegiate. In its most recent tournament, the relatively less competitive ASU Thunderbird Invitational, the Bears earned eighth place — an improvement, but hardly one that made headlines. The Western Intercollegiate is the last of Cal’s regular-season tournaments and, thus, one of the last opportunities Cal has to impress the NCAA enough to be invited to the regional championships.
But the Western Intercollegiate is not exactly the ideal tournament in which to stand out. The Intercollegiate fields a group of extremely competitive teams — No. 1 USC, No. 5 Oregon, No. 14 Stanford, No. 16 Texas and No. 24 Arizona State. The five ranked teams in the tournament, especially top-ranked USC, will certainly distract from Cal’s performance. Unless Cal can pull off an unbelievable upset, it is likely the Bears will disappear into the woodwork.
Cal’s biggest competition, however, does not come from these ranked teams. Rather, it comes from the teams who are fighting, like the Bears are, for goals that seem just out of reach. Pepperdine and San Diego State, both recently dropped from the rankings, are undoubtedly looking to get back on the leaderboard again.
Pepperdine, which placed second and tied fourth at the Arizona Intercollegiate and the Southern Highlands Collegiate, respectively, seemed to hit a wall in its most recent tournament, the Goodwin, in which it placed a middling sixth. San Diego State, which placed 15th at the Southern Highlands Collegiate, below Cal, seems to have turned its luck around — the Aztecs placed fourth at their most recent tournament, the Oregon Duck Invitational.
Of course, Cal is not without a few aces tucked up its sleeve, the most notable of which is sophomore Collin Morikawa. Morikawa, who was recently named the Pac-12 men’s golfer of the month after his first collegiate win at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational, is easily one of the best collegiate golfers in the country.
The rest of the team is young, but already battle-hardened through the fall season’s trial by fire. With a hefty helping of the maverick spirit Cal brings to the table, a strong finish at the Western Intercollegiate is not out of the question.
The Bears have been full of surprises this spring, from their unexpectedly high placements in the first two tournaments of the season to their unexpectedly low placement at their most recent tournament. But anybody who writes off Cal based on its performances at the season’s more difficult tournaments is making a mistake — the Bears can sneak up on the competition when it’s least expecting it.
Maya Rao covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected]