Golfers look to build on early success

After starting the year off with a bang, tying a course record in its season opener two weeks ago, the Cal men’s golf team hopes to carry its momentum into a more competitive field.

The team will travel to Burlington, Iowa to compete in the Golfweek Conference Challenge beginning this Sunday at 7 a.m (Pacific Time). The three-day tournament at Spirit Hollow Golf Course is the team’s second of the season.

Not only did the Bears achieve a team victory at the Wolverine Intercollegiate in Ann Arbor, Mich., but all five players finished in the top 20, and three in the top five.

“That was our first event of the year, and we don’t usually start playing this early,” coach Steve Desimone said. “We felt very prepared going into the tournament, though. Our players had very good summers and we came in with the best set of qualifying scores we’ve ever had.”

That off-season preparation turned into a dominant performance. The team outscored second-place Baylor by twelve strokes and tied a course record with a 13-under par finish.

“Playing at that level shows that we did a lot of things right,” Desimone said.

Sophomore Joel Stalter finished in second place, his highest personal finish yet, propelled by his course record-tying second round. Desimone hailed it as “a tremendous round of golf. One of the best in the history of the program.”

Stalter was followed by junior Max Homa and freshman Michael Kim, who tied for fifth, sophomore Brandon Hagy in 14th, and junior Pace Johnson in 18th.

“We were playing for the win,” Stalter said. “I knew if we would play well we would have a good chance to win, and we all played solid and that’s what we did — got the win.”

Kim didn’t know what to expect in his first collegiate tournament, but was satisfied with his performance.

“The win felt really good,” Kim said. “It was a great way to start the season. More than anything else, this experience gives me confidence that I can finish in the top five in a collegiate tournament.”

With an early victory already under their belts, the Bears look forward to facing tougher competition at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, which boasts a field of 15 teams each representing a different conference. Of the 15, six competed in the NCAA Championships last year and three garnered top 10 rankings to finish the season.

“This tournament looks to be a stronger field — like a mini NCAA championship,” Desimone said. “It will be a good step up for us. We are representing the Pac-12. This is a good time to demonstrate our skills and test ourselves.”

The players agree that going into the tournament with a recent win is an advantage, particularly for the younger players.

“We are learning how to win early and gaining some good experience,” Homa said. “So hopefully we can take what we learned and show it on a bigger stage this weekend.”