Team looks to junior Homa to lead young Bears squad to prominence

Junior Pace Johnson transferred from Cal Poly to join the Bears this season. He tied for 13th in the Golfweek Conference Challenge last week.

What is the vision of a young, relatively inexperienced Cal men’s golf team for the 2011-2012 season?

“I see us winning a National Championship!” said junior Max Homa. “You always have to expect the best.”

Though they graduated four seniors from last year’s team, including standouts Eric Mina and Stephen Hale, the Bears do not consider this season to be a rebuilding year. Hale and Mina left a void at the top of the Cal lineup, with Homa in line to fill the veteran role. Rounding out the rest of the top five are a junior transfer student, two sophomores and a true freshman.

“We lost that leadership, and we are going to go through a transition,” coach Steve Desimone said. “Max is the only one with real experience, the only one who has proven himself already. I like the direction we are going, though.”

Despite its inexperience, this young team has gotten off to an impressive start. The Bears won their first event of the season, with sophomore Joel Stalter leading the club with a second place individual finish. Freshman Michael Kim also finished in the top five alongside Homa.

The squad’s second event solidified its successful start with a fifth place finish. Pace Johnson, a transfer from Cal Poly, led the Bears in the first two rounds, establishing himself as one to watch for this season as well.

These players have already proven themselves assets, and should help the Bears as they face a daunting schedule this year. The most immediate challenge the team faces is Isleworth Collegiate Invitational in Windermere, Fla. The tournament is one of the most respected in the nation, and has 10 top-20 teams competing this year.

“It will be our hardest test yet, but it will give us an opportunity to show where we are and that we can compete with the best,” Homa said.

Desimone also highlights the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, held in March in Las Vegas, Nev., as another competitive event on the schedule. After that, all eyes are focused on the Pac-12 Championship, the NCAA Regionals and, of course, the NCAA Championship.

“The ultimate goal every year is an NCAA Championship,” Desimone said. “The reality is you have to go through the steps to get there. It’s a step-by-step process, and so far we’ve taken two very good steps.”

Homa believes that the Bears’ team chemistry will help them progress through such steps this season. He notes their closeness and camaraderie, considering it a key factor that differentiates this team from others it will face.

It is this sort of attitude that Desimone believes will make Homa a solid leader.

“He is definitely moving into a leadership role, and he is a very perceptive leader saying the right things at the right times and leading by example,” Desimone said. “It is the kind of leadership a coach is looking for in his top players.”

Homa, while willing to accept the leadership role that has fallen on his shoulders, seems quite humble about the whole situation.

“I’ve been in that comfort zone of having others lead me, but now that I’m one of the more experienced coming into this season, things are coming kind of naturally,” Homa said.

Homa’s experience, including his two previous trips to the national championship, will be key in guiding the team this year. While the Bears have their sights set on a championship this season, their youth also allows them to look to the future.

“Our youth is a reason for optimism this year, and a reason for great optimism going forward,” Desimone said. “We should see a great succession of teams capable of bringing home a National Championship.”

“This is going to be in interesting ride with these guys.”