Often called the “Masters” of collegiate golf, the Southern Highlands Collegiate promised to be a challenge for the No. 15 Cal men’s golf team. Finishing in the top two in each of their last three tournaments, the Bears already knew they could compete with the nation’s best. This was their chance to prove it.
The Southern Highland Collegiate traditionally boasts a field of top collegiate teams, and this year was no different. Eight of the teams competing ranked in the top 25, including No. 4 Georgia Tech, No. 6 USC, No. 7 Auburn and No. 13 Pepperdine. Cal competed against the Trojans and the Waves just last week at the Southwestern Invitational, where the Trojans got the better of them. At No. 15, Cal was the seventh-ranked team in the field, and this tournament was an opportunity to move up in the rankings early in Cal’s spring season.
After three difficult days of competition from Sunday through Tuesday, the Bears finished fifth, with senior Collin Morikawa leading the way as he tied for fourth individually.
Throughout much of the tournament, Cal hovered around the fifth spot. After the first day, the Bears were tied for fourth, led by strong showings from both Morikawa and redshirt senior K.K. Limbhasut, who were tied for eighth overall.
The windy conditions on the first day died down somewhat for the second day, allowing for better scores. Although Cal played well, it dropped a couple of spots to sixth place overall.
“We played better as a team today, but the course played a lot easier, and we didn’t make enough birdies to keep up with the leaders,” Morikawa said in a press release after the second day of the invitational. “I putted a little better today, so all we have to do as a team is put everything we’ve been working on together and really make a charge tomorrow.”
Cal bounced back in the final round, led by Morikawa and sophomore Kaiwen Liu. Morikawa had the fourth-best round of the day, finishing at 4-under for the day, and Liu recorded a 2-under. These scores vaulted the Bears into fifth place overall, only one shot behind No. 18 Texas Tech.
“I am really proud of the guys for playing with so much grit all tournament long,” said Walter Chun, Cal’s director of men’s golf. “This course is so demanding physically and mentally, and although we made mistakes, the mistakes never rattled the players. They just kept bouncing back.”
This fourth-place finish increases Morikawa’s streak of top-five showings to seven and his streak of top-10 showings to 13, dating back to last season. Limbhasut got his second top-10 finish and fourth top-15 finish of the season as he closed out the tournament in ninth place. Liu, redshirt senior Sebastian Crampton and freshman James Song closed out the lineup, finishing tied for 24th, 31st and 44th, respectively.
The Bears now have a few weeks off after a busy stretch in Southern California and Nevada. Their final two invitationals before the Pac-12 Championships will take place a short distance away in Northern California, in Stanford and Santa Cruz.
This tournament gave the Bears a preview of may await them in the second part of their spring season. After a rough showing at last year’s NCAA regional tournament, Cal has shown it has the depth and skills to redeem itself this season.
Akshara Majjiga covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected].