Nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the 18th hole of Pasatiempo Golf Club stands as the last chance to improve or maybe even save a golf game. To end a golf course with a 179-yard short par three is somewhat unusual, but it allows for the 18th at Pasatiempo to be the best opportunity for a much-needed birdie. And when Cal senior Joel Stalter stepped up to the 18th, fighting to stay in the top 10, he desperately needed that birdie.
Despite carding two back-to-back bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes, Stalter stepped up to the tee with assured confidence. Surveying the short distance ahead, Stalter whacked the ball. It soared high before falling gracefully, four feet away from the hole on a very tricky green. Stalter had stuck it.
Stalter would go on to birdie the hole and finish tied for ninth at the Western Intercollegiate on Saturday and Sunday in Santa Cruz, Calif. Unfortunately, Stalter’s performance wouldn’t be enough to lift the Cal men’s golf team (345-359-354, +8), who finished third overall in its last regular-season tournament, falling 18 strokes behind first-place No. 4 Stanford.
“It was a tough weekend; we didn’t play very well for the most part. Joel hanged on pretty tough,” said head coach Steve Desimone. “We’re licking our wounds a little bit.”
The two-day, 54-hole tournament quickly became a battle for second, as Stanford (347-349-344, -10) dominated almost all weekend, firmly establishing an insurmountable double-digit lead early Sunday afternoon in the third round.
Cal traded back-and-forth places for second with another Pac-12 opponent, No. 17 Washington (347-355-354, +6), before the Huskies finally hung on to finish two strokes ahead of the Bears at six over par.
The Bears performed well enough in their first 36 holes of play Saturday to stay close to par at four over for the day but struggled against a series of challenging up -and-down greens and ocean winds that became a factor in their second round.
“Again very similar to Southern Highlands (tournament), we didn’t handle the wind very well yesterday (Saturday),” Desimone said. “And honestly, that has me a little worried, but not much we can do about it now.”
Stalter was the only Bear to finish under par for the weekend, but teammate junior James Yoon came close, finishing two over par. Senior Brandon Hagy, who took first place in the Bears’ last tournament, struggled to overcome a series of bogeys in his second and third round.
These results also have an impact on the upcoming NCAA tournament in May, as the Bears are currently battling Stanford for the position of No. 1 team in the West: a title that comes with a course advantage going into the NCAA regionals.
If Stanford takes the No. 1 spot from Cal, which it likely will after this tournament, and holds on to it through the conference championships, the Bears will be forced to play their first round of the regionals farther away instead of at the more local Eugene Country Club on the West Coast.
“The more important issue is it puts them (Stanford) as the top team in the West, at least for the next couple weeks, and that will have dramatic consequences for us,” Desimone said. “We need to come back (in the conference championships); that would be a three-peat, and I like that idea.”
Christine Menchaca covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected]