Cal men’s golf faces Stanford at Western Intercollegiate as season winds down

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The 68th annual Western Intercollegiate is the longest-running collegiate golf tournament west of the Mississippi. And it’s the perfect place for the No. 3 men’s golf team to close out one of its strongest regular seasons. On Saturday, the Bears will collide with rival No. 4 Stanford in a battle for possible course advantages going into the postseason later this month and in May.

The Bears will play their last regular-season tournament Friday and Saturday at the historic Pasatiempo Golf Course in Santa Cruz, Calif. The par-70 6,615-yard course is known for its rolling hills, large elevation changes and is one of head coach Steve Desimone’s personal favorites.

“Pasatiempo is one of my 10 favorite courses in the world,” Desimone said. “For the most part, (it has) very wide fairways, rolling fairways, very well-bunkered, tremendous greens. It’s a great golf course.”

It is crucial that the Bears perform well in the more-local Western Intercollegiate, as they face five Pac-12 competitors. Currently, Cal is ranked one spot higher than Stanford, according to the latest Golf Stat rankings.

Depending on how the two teams do this weekend and in the conference championships, the team ranked higher in the west will stay closer to home when it comes time for the NCAA regionals in May. The lower-ranked team will be forced to begin the long, two-week NCAA tournament much farther from home, likely in Texas or Illinois. This “home-field” advantage of sorts could become a much-needed benefit going into the championships in Kansas, which have been moved up to May — only six days after the regionals — meaning that there is a bigger chance of travel tiring down a golf team.

“I think this is the best the two teams have been during the same year since 1995 — almost 20 years,” Desimone said. “There’s a lot at stake here for both programs … Regional advantage — otherwise, there is a tremendous amount of travel.”

The Bears have the advantage over the Cardinal going into the weekend: They are the defending champions heading into Santa Cruz, where they took the first place title just a season ago with a very similar roster.

“We are the defending champions — most of the players on the team won here last year,” Desimone said. “We’re comfortable with this golf course … We know the landing areas, we know the sight lines.”

Even with their past success, the Bears are still facing a tough physical challenge this weekend as they face three top-20 teams on a very tiring course with a chance of wind. For the second weekend in a row, the Bears will play 36 holes for two rounds Saturday.

“Pasatiempo is a very, very strong walk. It’s up and down elevation changes, serious elevation changes,” Desimone said. “Within 48 hours, we’re going to be taking some fairly substantial hikes.”

Luckily for the team, its last regular season tournament will also be one of the closest, only a mere hour-and-a-half drive for most of the players — a fact Desimone fondly jokes about.

“Most of them (the players) will probably be asleep before we leave the parking lot,” Desimone said.

Christine Menchaca covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected]