After record year, Bears try to finish out on top

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Before this season, the Cal men’s golf team had never won more than three competitions, and had never won a conference title.

This season, the squad won a record six tournaments, including its first Pac-12 conference championship.

This year’s Cal team has had more success than any other in program history, except for one thing — the 2012 Bears have yet to bring home the NCAA trophy, something that the 2004 team accomplished for the first time in Cal history.

“This team knows that until there’s a second trophy hanging in my room they’ll always be number two,” said Cal coach Steve Desimone.

The journey to that NCAA National Championship begins its final leg Tuesday as the Bears begin the first of three days of stroke play at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. The format of stroke play will be five golfers per team with the top four scores in each round counting towards each team’s total.

The eight teams with the lowest scores after the first three days will begin three days of match play on Friday.

Of the five Cal golfers competing, junior Max Homa and sophomore Brandon Hagy have the team’s only NCAA championship experience. Homa tied for 86th place in 2010 and improved 17th last year. Hagy was 135th in the 2010 competition.

Freshman Michael Kim, sophomore Joel Stalter, and junior Pace Johnson will all be competing in their first championship.

If the Bears are able to qualify for match play, they will be as prepared as anyone to win the title. The team has played in two match play tournaments this year after only playing one in the program’s history before this year.

“We played strong in both match play tournaments,” Desimone said, “even though we weren’t at full strength for either of them.”

The extra holes against Oregon at the Pac-12 championship were a similar format to match play, and the team has practiced the format internally as well.

“We’ve done everything we can do to be prepared,” Desimone said. “You never know what is going to happen in the final eight, but I don’t know how we could be any more prepared than we are.”

After winning its last two tournaments, Cal’s confidence and health are the best they have been all year. The performance of other teams has given the Bears an extra confidence boost as well.

“It was good to see Oregon knock off Texas in their regional,” Desimone said. “That showed that even though Texas was No. 1 all year, they are still beatable.”

Desimone won’t give his team too much credit yet, but he knows that the Bears are in a prime position to keep their hot streak going.

“We have more than a legitimate shot to win this,” Desimone said. “We have as good of a shot to win this as anybody at the tournament. That’s all you can ask right now, just give us that chance.”