In some ways, the Cal men’s golf team’s season so far has been characterized by strong starts and disappointing finishes. At the Alister MacKenzie Invitational earlier this month, a record-breaking start was overshadowed by an opponent’s even stronger finish, dropping the Bears into second place for the tournament.
At the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational last week, Cal dropped six places in two rounds for a disappointing eighth-place finish in a tournament it had won a year ago.
So in this way, the start of the season has been significantly more frustrating this year compared to last season’s success, when the team seemed unstoppable at this point in the season, having won back-to-back invitationals.
Despite the struggles of fall 2018, Cal is far from a weaker team. The Bears have shown themselves to be capable of putting together strong rounds but have struggled to put together an entire tournament devoid of mistakes. Still, with all of the members of last year’s team returning, in addition to some new talent, Cal is looking to contend for a title at the Ka’anapali Classic in Maui this weekend.
Last year’s tournament champions, LSU, will not be returning for this year’s Classic, leaving the fight for the title wide open. Clemson is the only school in the 20-team field ranked within the top 10 in Golfstat’s most recent ranking, with Oklahoma and Georgia both in the top 20. Cal is the fourth-ranked team in the tournament at No. 26, even after a rough finish at last week’s tournament.
Last year, the Bears pulled off a third-place finish behind redshirt senior K.K. Limbhasut’s second straight invitational victory. This is only the second time in the tournament’s five-year history that Cal will compete, and the Bears are eager to make their mark on the tournament once again this season.
Despite two individual wins at this point last year, Limbhasut and the rest of the Cal team have yet to secure an individual title at their five stroke-play tournaments this year. Besides Limbhasut, senior Collin Morikawa, who is currently ranked No. 5 by Golfstat, is seeking his first tournament win of the season.
Morikawa has been Cal’s top finisher at each of the three tournaments he competed in, and he has finished in the top five at each of them. Perhaps more impressive, his 67.89 stroke average for this season is better than the NCAA record of 68.68 he set last year, although that mark is only good for fourth in the nation this season.
Another key player back in the lineup for the first time this season is redshirt junior Jamie Cheatham, who has been out with an injury since last April. Cheatham has been a key factor in some tournaments in the past, and it will be interesting to see how his experience affects the play of the team.
This weekend, he will join freshman James Song, redshirt senior Sebastian Crampton, Limbhasut and Morikawa to close out the first half of their season in Hawaii before regrouping for the spring opener in February.
Akshara Majjiga covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected].