Men’s golf team closes out regular season with 2nd-place finish

Golf player swings his club.
Karen Chow /File

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The No. 11 Cal men’s golf team entered its final regular-season tournament ready to make a statement as the second-ranked team at the Western Intercollegiate presented by Topgolf, trailing behind No. 6 USC. Despite a rocky start, strong final rounds from some of their experienced golfers allowed the Bears to defend their second-place standing at the Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz.

This year, the Golf Channel televised nine hours of live coverage of the Western Intercollegiate. Three out of Cal’s final five scheduled events this season will be partially televised or streamed live. Director of men’s golf Walter Chun believed that the event being televised put additional pressure on the players, which provided them with good practice for future events such as the NCAA championships if the team qualifies.

“These announcers and GOLF Channel have done a great job of researching the players, and TopGolf, it’s been a godsend from them to be willing to invest three years in this,” Chun said in a press release. “It’s a special moment for myself and my players to be on GOLF Channel, and the more pressure for the guys the better in front of the cameras.”

The Western Intercollegiate, hosted by San Jose State, featured a 13-team field with four teams ranked in the top 20 by Golfstat. With five Cal players ranked in the top 200, including senior Collin Morikawa at No. 2, redshirt senior Sebastian Crampton at No. 34 and redshirt senior K.K. Limbhasut at No. 62, the Bears seemed primed to fight for the tournament title.

After the first round, however, that feat was looking more and more difficult. With only two players in the top 15 in Limbhasut and Crampton, Cal was tied for fifth after a +4 opening round. Host school San Jose State had a -4 round, giving the team the lead heading into the second day of competition.

In the second round, the Bears worked toward cutting the deficit. They finished the day in third at just six strokes out of the lead, a score that placed them in the final group for the last day of the tournament along with leaders San Jose State, Stanford and USC.

At this point, Crampton was the only Cal player under par at -1, but four Cal players joined him in the top 25 by the end of the day. In ninth place, 11th place and 15th place, respectively, the trio of Crampton, Limbhasut and Morikawa put forth strong performances to push the team back into title contention.

“I got off to a good start at two-under through four holes and was playing some good golf, but I definitely flattened out a bit the last 13 or so holes and made some bogeys,” Crampton said. “Overall, I hung tough and fought hard out there.”

On the final day, the Bears fought their way into the top spot on the front nine but ultimately couldn’t hold on — they finished second with a score of -4 behind Stanford at -10. Limbhasut, Cal’s top finisher, closed out the tournament with a six-under final round that propelled him into fourth place. This round matched the best score of his collegiate career and included six birdies and no bogeys.

Close behind him and tied for seventh place was Morikawa, who tallied his 15th straight top-10 finish. Unfortunately, this seventh-place finish ended his streak of top-five finishes at eight, but Morikawa was named a semifinalist for the Ben Hogan Award shortly thereafter, a recognition he has now received for three straight years. The award is given to the top men’s collegiate golfer based on collegiate and amateur competitions between June 2018 and May 2019.

Cal enters the postseason with top-five team finishes in eight of its 10 stroke play events and two team titles. The Bears will carry this momentum with them as they compete at the Pac-12 Championships next Monday through Wednesday in Oregon.

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