Cal men’s golf enters Pac-12 Championships for final swings

Maya Rao covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected]

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With the 2017 spring season pretty much in the books, it is no surprise that the Cal men’s golf team is ready to start the offseason rebuilding process. With one more tournament to check off, the Pac-12 Championships, Cal’s golfers will get their final swings in before starting over from square one in pursuit of a more promising fall.

There’s no way around it — this regular season was not the Bears’ best. Cal started out strong, netting fifth- and sixth-place finishes at the John A. Burns Intercollegiate and the Arizona Intercollegiate, respectively. The John A. Burns Intercollegiate, in particular, hosted a fairly competitive field of four ranked teams, one of which Cal bested. But the Bears ran headlong into roadblocks in their next two tournaments — the Querencia Cabo Collegiate and the Southern Highlands Intercollegiate.

The two tournaments are the Rose Bowls of collegiate men’s golf — prestigious, competitive and made up of some of the best collegiate players in the country, if not the world. Cal had already stumbled in such tournaments this season, such as the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational, where the Bears placed last. The Querencia Cabo Collegiate and the Southern Highlands Collegiate were no different, where Cal placed 14th and 12th, respectively.

“The courses earlier on in the spring fit our games pretty well,” said head coach Walter Chun. “When we got to the next two tournaments, they’re set up a lot different. They’re major championship golf courses, and the guys (hadn’t) really played golf courses so difficult.”

But the losing streak did not end there. In the ASU Thunderbird Invitational, which featured only one ranked team, Cal placed a middling eighth, faring worse than when it faced tougher competition earlier in the spring. The Thunderbird Invitational was the Bears’ best chance to soar, but subpar performances and the dented self-confidence resulting from the previous two tournaments instead clipped their wings.

Cal’s troubles don’t stem from lack of talent. Sophomore Collin Morikawa, one of the top collegiate golfers in the world, earns the praise so often showered upon him. In the fall, he single-handedly boosted the team’s placements, and this spring, he netted two consecutive first-place finishes, including the first collegiate win of his career. Redshirt freshman William Aldred, perhaps Cal’s next up-and-coming golf star, shot an extremely rare two holes-in-one at the Western Intercollegiate. But this season, it seemed that nothing could save the Bears.

“We’ve all worked hard, but we just haven’t had the results that we expected,” Chun said. “We’ve all put in a lot of hours, but sometimes golf just gets the better of you.”

The Pac-12 championships will host highly competitive ranked teams, including No. 1 USC, No. 7 Stanford and No. 9 Oregon. The tournament will also feature Colorado, which was recently dropped from the rankings and will undoubtedly be looking to make it to the NCAA regional championships.

It’s not likely the Bears will earn a surprise win in a season that has been mostly made up of surprise losses. But despite the string of disappointing performances this season, Chun regards it as a valuable learning experience.

“I don’t know what to expect from the (Pac-12) Championships … (and) that’s not a really comfortable situation to be heading into,” Chun said. “(But) my expectation for the guys is that they take into account the good and the bad from this spring and play at a higher level.”