Before Thursday, both Cal golf teams could say with pride that they had never lost a Big Match to Stanford. Granted, they had never played in one.
But on Sept. 20, their undefeated record was put to the test as the two rivals participated in their first head-to-head match. And although it was a tight competition throughout, Cal was able to walk away with a 1-0 record and some bragging rights as the team defeated the Cardinal in a playoff.
The inaugural Big Match was a four-ball contest played at Menlo Country Club. Cal sent six pairs, each with a representative from the men’s and women’s teams (with the exception of one pair in which both members were from the women’s team) to compete against six Stanford pairs. The lower of the two scores was counted for each of the 18 holes.
The match was intended to be friendly, but as expected from these rivals, it quickly turned competitive. Five matches in, the two teams were tied, with two matches each and a tie between them, as they awaited the results of the final match on the course.
“We thought it was just going to be a fun match going into it, but it became kind of heated at the end because it got so close,” said Cal redshirt senior Ben Doyle. “It was a lot of pressure; I wasn’t expecting that going into it.”
The men had a strong showing, as they lost only one of the five head-to-head matchups in which they participated. After the pair of women lost the first match of the day, redshirt senior KK Limbhasut and freshman Elena Arias participated in the second match, building up a sizable lead in the front nine, but losing it to an onslaught of birdies from the Stanford team; their match ended in a tie.
The third match included freshman duo James Song and Katherine Zhu, who built up and maintained a lead throughout, securing a 4 & 3 Cal victory.
Despite fighting back at the end, redshirt senior Sebastian Crampton and junior Maria Herraez Galvez dropped their match 3 & 2, and senior Collin Morikawa and his partner, senior Cindy Oh, secured a final win 5 & 4. This evened up the score, leaving it all to the final match.
The last pair left on the field featured Doyle and senior Amina Wolf. Stanford led by one, and the Bears needed a stroke of luck or a stroke of genius if they were to extend the match.
Doyle delivered that stroke with a two-putt par, winning the final hole and evening up the final match. This sent senior stars Morikawa and Oh back onto the field for a playoff against Stanford’s top team to decide the fate of the match.
“Going into the final hole, I told Ben that we needed a win. Otherwise, we didn’t have a chance of winning the championship,” said Cal assistant coach Eric Mina. “He played really well under pressure and executed the shot he needed to.”
Morikawa and Oh had easily defeated the Stanford pair earlier in the day, which Morikawa attributed to his teammate, who sunk birdie after birdie all day. On the first hole, both teams were even, despite Oh securing another birdie, and the second hole seemed like it might’ve ended the same way. But, in a fitting end, Oh’s 11-foot birdie putt gave Cal the win, as cheers erupted from the Cal side of the green.
“Really, (Oh) did all of the work, and I didn’t do much,” Morikawa said. “She came in clutch; she came in clutch all day. And it was really exciting for our team.”
Although the match was only intended to be friendly, the team enjoyed being able to make its mark on the Cal-Stanford rivalry. With large support from Menlo Country Club and athletic directors from both schools, the team hopes to continue its streak against its rival in the years to come.
“You always see it on TV with football,” Song said. “And being able to do it in person — it’s pretty cool. And being able to support your school and get a win — it’s pretty awesome.”
Akshara Majjiga covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected].