Cal men’s golf takes aim at back-to-back victories on home territory

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In any sport, there’s something special about playing at home — the cheering crowds, the friendly faces and perhaps most notably, a familiar setting. But, with golf, it’s a little different.

Instead of playing on campus for its first “home” tournament of the season, the Cal men’s golf team will pack up its clubs and make the 40-minute drive out to Fairfax, California to a course on which the Bears have plenty of experience.

Two weeks after taking down Stanford in the inaugural Big Match, the Bears are in competition mode again. But, this time, they’ll be on familiar territory as the defending champions of the Alister Mackenzie Invitational on Oct. 8 and 9.

For the past 16 years, Cal has hosted the annual invitational at Meadow Club in Fairfax. The team’s familiarity with the course is undoubtedly going to be an advantage once again — just as it was in 2017 as the Bears dominated the rest of the field, winning by 17 strokes.

Not only did Cal win last year, but the team had three golfers in the top 10 and KK Limbhasut, now a redshirt senior, won the entire tournament with a score of 198 (-15). Current redshirt senior Sebastian Crampton shot a 199 (-14) to tie for second overall, while Collin Morikawa, now a senior, scored 204 (-9) for ninth place.

With a significantly stronger third-place showing at this year’s OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational compared to last year’s ninth-place finish, the Bears seem only to have improved their strength as well as their depth.

At the start of this season, Cal did not lose any players to graduation and even managed to add a few strong pieces, highlighted by the additions of freshman James Song and redshirt freshman Joseph Chun. Even without last year’s Alister Mackenzie Invitational winner — Limbhasut just completed a strong fifth-place showing at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Singapore — Cal is prepared to earn back-to-back victories.

But stiff competition awaits. The Bears are currently ranked No. 15 by the NCAA, narrowly outranked by conference foe Arizona State at No. 11. The Sun Devils came away with the victory two years ago, and it appears that this year’s tournament will be another tough fight for both teams. All of the remaining 13 teams in the field are unranked, so the battle for the title will likely be a two-headed race.

Morikawa is poised to continue another strong season, as he was named the Pac-12 Men’s Golfer of the Month on Monday. This award adds to his list of accolades over the last two seasons, including being named the Golfweek Men’s Golfer of the Year for the 2017-18 season.

After the team’s win against Stanford on Sept. 20, assistant coach Eric Mina explained that the goals of the coaching staff and the players center on improving every day. Now, a few tournaments into the season, the team seems to be hitting its stride with impressive showings in its last two matches.

Still, after a more than two-week hiatus, this could be anyone’s match as Cal hopes to continue its upward trajectory and secure another win as the host of the tournament.

Akshara Majjiga covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected].