Cal men’s golf exceeds expectations in fall campaign

Casey Valentine, GoldenBearSports.com/Courtesy

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Despite an inexperienced starting lineup that includes two freshmen and two sophomores, Cal men’s golf finished the fall campaign ranked 18th. The Bears won two events, the Inverness and Alister Mackenzie Invitational; placed second at the Gopher Invitational; and came in third at the Tavistock Collegiate and Nick Watney Invitationals.

“We had a tremendous fall season,” said Cal head coach Steve Desimone. “If you told me on Sept. 1 that were going to win twice, be runner-up once and earn third twice, I would have taken it and run.”

This success surprised many, considering the team’s lack of veteran presence. The starting lineup featured freshman Collin Morikawa and sophomore KK Limbhasut, who finished the season with the 63rd and 65th lowest scoring averages, respectively, at 71.13 and 71.17.

“I knew we had a great team with a lot of great players. I worked for my spot,” Morikawa said. “I had to prove myself just to compete in tournaments. Once at tournaments, I enjoyed it as much as I could and just tried to play my best. I learned a lot.”

Outside of Morikawa and Limbhasut, the entire squad consisted of long hitters that consistently struck the ball well. This led to an abundance of birdie opportunities throughout the year. Sharp putting turned these birdie chances into low scores.

Cal certainly rolled birdies in at its final event of the fall season, the Tavistock College Invitational. The Bears jumped out to an early five-stroke lead in the first round after shooting a 279 (-9). Individually, Morikawa’s 67 (-5) propelled him to the top of the leaderboard. On Day Two, Cal extended its lead to nine strokes in front of a competitive field that includes a series of teams now ranked in the top 25, such as No. 1 Illinois, No. 9 Arizona State, No. 15 Vanderbilt and No. 16 North Carolina.

“When you go to Isleworth, there isn’t a bigger event in the fall,” Desimone said. “There was lots of media, and it is an unbelievably challenging golf course. We were competing with the No. 1 team in the country.”

In the final round, the wheels fell off. Cal shot 309 (+21) as a team, the second worst team score of the day. The nine-stroke lead quickly disappeared on the front nine, and the Bears finished the event in third place, 13 strokes behind first-place Illinois. This event in particular highlighted how Cal’s inexperience held it back down the stretch.

To get past debacles such as the one at Tavistock, each golfer will focus on improving the part of his game that needs work this offseason. The entire team recognizes short game as a weakness.

“Bunker play almost across the board needs to improve dramatically,” Desimone said. “We have been home for two and a half weeks, and guys have already been working on their short game.”

Cal will open the spring campaign with the Arizona Intercollegiate from Jan. 29-30 at the Sewailo Golf Course in Tucson, Arizona. The team is optimistic about 2016.

“This is a very young team. Its best days are ahead of us. We will see that this spring, and we will see that over the next three or four years,” Desimone said. “There’s reasons for excitement after this fall. The guys get that. Stay tuned.”

Alex Heuer covers men’s golf. Contact him at [email protected]