Three hundred and sixty-four days ago, the 2017 OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational had just come to a close with Cal men’s golf tied for a disappointing ninth-place finish. It was the start of the season, and the team was getting warmed up, but it had been hoping for a better outcome.
This season, the Bears had a chance at redemption and they took full advantage, pulling together a third-place finish.
Hosted by Illinois at the Olympia Fields Country Club, the 54-hole event spanned three days with competition commencing Friday. On top of beating last year’s finish in the tournament, the Bears were also determined to prove themselves after an 11th-place finish at the Carpet Capital Collegiate tournament in Georgia last weekend.
With only a week between competitions, it wasn’t just practice and focus that made a difference this time around. The real game-changer for the Bears was the return of one of the best players in men’s collegiate golf.
Star senior Collin Morikawa, named the 2017-2018 Golfweek Men’s Player of the Year, made his senior season debut this weekend and played an integral role in Cal’s team success with his individual second-place finish.
His absence at last weekend’s season opener was due to his role in Team USA’s second-place finish at the World Amateur Golf Championship in Ireland, where he earned eighth individually.
Day 1 started off with a promising performance from the Bears. Cal proved to be tough competition for defending NCAA champion Oklahoma State, matching its 7-under-par 273 after the opening round and leaving them tied for first at the end of the first day.
The next closest teams on the leaderboard were South Carolina and UNLV, which were still 10 strokes behind.
This initial success for the Bears was of course aided by a stellar performance from Morikawa, but freshman James Song proved his worth in his collegiate debut, matching his superior with a 3-under-par 67. This score tied the duo for second on the Day 1 leaderboards, two strokes behind Oklahoma State’s Matthew Wolff.
Redshirt senior Sebastian Crampton also played his part on the first day, finishing in a tie for fifth and only one stroke behind Morikawa and Song. Redshirt senior K.K. Limbhasut and sophomore Kaiwen Liu ended the day tied for 21st.
Unfortunately, the team was not able to hold on to its initial standing throughout the rest of the weekend. Day 2 saw the Bears fall eight shots behind Oklahoma State, but their under-par performance still kept them at second overall.
Morikawa had a stellar day with his 4-under-par performance, the best of the afternoon, launching him one stroke ahead of Wolff to the top of the individual leaderboard.
Morikawa’s success failed to keep Cal in first as Crampton fell four spots on the leaderboard, Song fell 18 and Limbhasut fell 19. One man can only do so much.
The final day of play saw another fall for the Bears, this time into third place, where they would end the tournament behind USC and a victorious Oklahoma State, which took first by 18 strokes.
After switching back and forth between the top two individual spots all day, Morikawa eventually finished in second place just one stroke behind Wolff. The deciding play came on the 18th hole, where Wolff made a par 4 while Morikawa bogeyed because of a putting mishap.
Though first is always preferable, this tournament only adds to Morikawa’s list of accomplishments as the eighth top-two finish of his collegiate career. This tournament proves that this senior still has the potential to rack up a couple more victories before the end of his time as a Golden Bear.
This Thursday, Cal will take a break from familiarity to compete in the inaugural Big Match against Stanford at the Menlo Country Club in Woodside. Both the men’s and women’s teams from each school will take part in a uniquely formatted tournament. The head-to-head is not one to be missed.
Alison White is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at