Bears will try to build off breakout year

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Joel Stalter and the Bears were part of one of the most successful year in Cal golf history. The squad won a conference title and set a school record for tournament wins.

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No one expected the Cal men’s golf team to break the school record for wins this year. No one expected the Bears to claim their first conference title. Certainly, no one expected them to win their NCAA regional — but they did.

The golf world knew that the Bears had talent, but no one expected the results to come as quickly as they did.

With a core of three of the most consistent golfers in the country, a veteran coach, and a skinny freshman with limited power, the Bears did what nobody expected them to do: compete for a national title.

Though Cal was unable to finish a comeback against top-seeded Alabama in the NCAA Tournament semifinals, the season was already historic before the team even reached that point.

“It’s been the best season in Cal golf history,” said head coach Steve Desimone. “We won a national championship in 2004, but if you look at what was accomplished (this year) — six tournament wins, the first conference championship, the first regional win, the academic accomplishments with five guys in Haas [business school] — it doesn’t get any better than this.”

The Bears will return all five golfers that competed at the NCAA competition, putting the squad in prime position to compete for a national title next season. Senior Jeff Hamm is graduating, but Michael Weaver will be back after redshirting this year.

“None of us see this thing slowing down,” Desimone said. “We were so close that we want another crack at this.”

Redshirt sophomore Brandon Hagy led the team alongside junior Max Homa and freshman Michael Kim, who created one of the most powerful top threes in the country.

Desimone says his players will all “be receiving postseason honors,” though those awards have yet to be formally announced.

“They all had great seasons,” Desimone said. “They all had moments where they really carried the team.”

Hagy’s highlight was the Pac-12 conference championship where a 40-foot putt on the 18th hole sent the tournament to extra holes and a 20-foot putt on the same hole minutes later, which won the team its first conference title.

Hagy has high hopes for next year’s team after it advancing so far at NCAAs.

“We expect to be in that final match next year,” Hagy said. “We’re all pretty driven to work hard and prepare for next season because we know that we can be one of those top teams in the country. We want that spotlight.”

The Bears should get that spotlight next year after exceeding all expectations this season. Desimone’s plans are ahead of schedule for the team. He was hoping for a strong showing from his team, but thought that next year would be the breakout season.

Instead, this was Cal’s breakout year.

One reason for this was Kim’s impressive rookie season.

“His track record was such that we thought he would make contributions,” Desimone said. “What surprised us wasn’t the quality, but how quickly he settled into the lineup.”

Whether it was Hagy’s putts, Kim’s short game, or Joel Stalter’s comeback to help the Bears beat SDSU in the NCAA quarterfinals, this year’s Cal golf team established itself as one of the best programs in the country.

If all goes well, next year will be no different — if not even better.

“You can call it overachieving,” Desimone said, “you can call it anything. We’re not sneaking up on anyone next year. We know what the expectations are.

“We got a third place trophy this year, but we want a first place trophy next year.”