In a sport like golf, many things are relative. For example, it’s important to consider how good your competition is, whether your team is healthy or not and your familiarity with the golf course. With this being said, it’s not fair to simply look at what place on a leaderboard a team finishes — one must also consider other variable factors that can affect a team’s performance.
Entering the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invite, Cal knew that it came in as heavy underdogs in a very competitive field that included 10 teams inside the NCAA top 25. But this challenge presented the Bears with an opportunity to show that their ranking does not justify how good they really are.
While the Bears may have come in with this underdog mentality, it ultimately didn’t work out as the team finished ninth out of 15 teams. The same level of inconsistency between rounds that plagued the Bears last week once again hampered the team in this competition.
“We could have played better or we could have played worse,” said Cal head coach Walter Chun. “We held our own, so I’m very pleased with how the guys played.”
In the first round on Friday, the Bears came out strong. The team was led by redshirt junior Sebastian Crampton and junior Collin Morikawa, who shot 67 (-3) and 70 (E) respectively. At the end of the first day, the Bears finished with a respectable score of 286, six shots off the pace set by No. 19 Alabama.
On the second day, things started to go south. It started off on a sour note as redshirt sophomore Jamie Cheatham was forced to retire due to an illness. The rest of the day was characterized by mostly inconsistent play as the team struggled on an extremely difficult golf course. The Bears finished by shooting 293 (+13) which essentially eliminated their chances at a top-five finish.
With any chance of winning gone down the drain, the team was fighting for pride, and to finish better than ranked Pac-12 Rivals Stanford and USC. In this final round, the Bears played much better, and each player shot 73 (+3) or better. The icing on the cake was that Cal finished higher than No. 8 USC and No. 14 Stanford.
“In college golf, you play as a team, and you have to remember how the team is going to be affected by each shot,” Morikawa said. “We have three guys coming back from redshirting, and for them to get back into the rhythm of things will set us up well for the spring.”
All in all, the Bears cannot be too disappointed with this performance. Once again, the team showed flashes of potential to compete with the best teams in the country. With several weeks off until the next tournament, the Bears will have time to refine their play and get better. One thing that is clear is other players will have to step up. Both redshirt junior KK Limbhasut and freshman Kaiwen Liu will look to get back to the form that they were in last week at the Carpet Collegiate Tournament where they both turned in top-15 finishes.
For the Bears, a ninth-place finish isn’t exactly what they were looking for when they started this tournament. But given the extremely high level of competition, the absence of Cheatham for two rounds and the fact that Cal did better than the other two Pac-12 teams, Cal’s performance was satisfactory, considering all the misfortunes that it faced.
Praveen Kuruppu covers men’s golf. Contact him at