For coach Steve Desimone, there is no question about it — the Cal men’s golf team had the greatest season in collegiate golf history.
So what if the Bears tied for third at the NCAA championships? Can a team be the best without even winning the ultimate prize? Desimone thinks so.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Desimone said, “the only reason this team didn’t win is because the format was different from ’04.”
The Cal team had 11 victories in just 14 stroke-play events, breaking a record that has stood since the 1970s. However, the NCAA tournament is not a stroke-play event but a match-play one, a format that is much more suspenseful for fans but that Desimone calls “a crapshoot.”
“Anything can happen in a round of match play,” he said.
And what happened was a historic upset. Cal lost to Illinois on June 1, ending the Bears’ NCAA run and giving them a third-place finish.
Although their finish was a disappointment for Desimone and the Bears, it didn’t take away from what the team, which the coach calls the “best in the country,” accomplished.
“Nothing diminishes what we did this year,” Desimone said, dismissing the idea that the loss in the NCAAs changes his perspective on the season.
Cal’s accomplishments include more than just its record-breaking number of victories. The Bears, who were ranked No. 1 with all 20 first-place votes for nearly the entire season, outscored their opponents by a combined 7,000 shots. To put that number into perspective, the three tournaments that Cal lost were by five shots. Combined.
The team also sent three players to the U.S. Open — another record for a collegiate golf team.
And what about the team that eventually ended up winning the NCAA tournament? Although Alabama took home the crown, it was 0-4 against the Bears in the regular season. Cal outscored the Crimson Tide by a combined 35 shots on the year.
“The numbers are so overwhelming it’s hard to argue against,” says Desimone. “There has never been a run like this in the history of college golf.”
And Desimone would know if there had been a run as impressive. He has been coaching the Cal men’s golf team for 35 years and recently won the Dave Williams Award, naming him the top college golf coach in the country. He also was named the coach of the year by Golfweek magazine.
“It’s a team award, not an individual one,” Desimone said of the accolades. “As a team, we had an incredibly great season.”
While their results at the NCAAs still sting, coach Desimone and the team are already looking toward the future. The main challenge will be replacing star Max Homa — the only senior on the squad. That’s a task that Desimone says “is going to be difficult.”
But despite that task ahead of him, Desimone is nothing but optimistic about next year.
“Next season is going to top this season,” Desimone said. “Every player believes it. We’re going to win an NCAA championship.”