A chip on their shoulders. That’s what director of men’s golf Walter Chun believes distinguishes the golfers on this year’s postseason team from those of years past. A disappointing 10th-place finish at the NCAA regionals in 2018, despite being seeded second in the field, and missing the NCAA championships served as a harsh reminder — in the postseason, nothing comes easy.
This year’s postseason travel team consists of mostly familiar faces. The six golfers representing the No. 12 Cal men’s golf team at the upcoming Pac-12 championships are prepared to show off their resilience and patience on collegiate golf’s biggest stage.
Redshirt senior Sebastian Crampton
Crampton will graduate in the spring with a summer of golf already planned out — he will be spending much of the summer competing at the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, hoping to qualify for the Web.com Tour and then the PGA Tour.
Crampton has been playing golf since he was 8, and the college recruitment process drew him to Cal for a variety of reasons.
“I chose Cal because I thought it would be the best place for me, both as a student and as a golfer,” Crampton said. “I just felt like Cal had the best combination of coaches and academics and players.”
Crampton has now been at Cal for five seasons and has been through ups and downs with the team. This postseason, however, is Crampton’s last, and he knows that going into it, all he can do is work hard and play his game.
“I’ve just got to play the best that I can and work as hard as I can leading up to every tournament,” Crampton explained. “If I can just play my game and play as hard as I can, then I should be good to go.”
Redshirt senior K.K. Limbhasut
Limbhasut has been at Cal for five years, and he has spent a good portion of that time with his teammates. He estimates that between practices and classes and eating meals together, he spends about eight hours every day with his team.
The team jokes that the longest waking periods they spend apart are when they’re golfing at different holes.
“We always carpool to practice together,” Limbhasut said. “Then coming back from practice, we always grab dinner. Normally, we don’t have practice on the weekend, so we just go practice on our own.”
This postseason will be the team’s final time together, and Limbhasut is looking forward to it as the Bears’ last opportunity to prove themselves.
“It’s a special one,” Limbhasut said. “It’s our last chance to compete for a national title. We just want to make the most out of it.”
Limbhasut first picked up golf during his childhood in Bangkok and has had the goal of playing professionally ever since. Having earned conditionally exempt status for the Mackenzie Tour, he has taken his first step in playing professional golf in the summer and beyond.
Senior Collin Morikawa
Like many who start the game young, Morikawa first became interested in golf when he accompanied his parents onto the driving range as a toddler. Although they have since dropped the sport, Morikawa’s parents continue to be supportive of his love of golf and ambitions.
“It’s always been my dream to turn professional, become No. 1 in the world, and win majors,” Morikawa said. “To drop out from other (team) sports, it was hard as a little kid to do that, but I still had a lot of fun practicing on my own.”
Morikawa has achieved a great deal of success at Cal — last year, he was the Golfweek Player of the Year and set a new NCAA record for stroke average, a record he is on track to beat again this season.
“The people up here are just amazing,” Morikawa extolled. “The school spirit is awesome. And to be part of the Cal family and the Cal golf family — it’s just an honor.”
Going into this final postseason ranked No. 2 by Golfstat, Morikawa’s goal remains the same as it has been all season: to win, both for the team and as an individual.
Redshirt junior Jamie Cheatham
Cheatham, unlike some of his teammates, did not fall in love with golf the first time he played it. His father, who developed a passion for golf in his 30s, introduced a 5-year-old Cheatham to the sport while living in Argentina.
“I didn’t really fall in love with the game until I was like 12 or 13,” Cheatham said. “Then I started really taking it seriously and playing tournaments.”
Growing up on a golf course in San Diego, Cheatham had the perfect opportunity to develop his skills, eventually earning himself a place on the Cal men’s golf team — a program whose history he valued.
With four seniors graduating this spring, Cheatham will be the most experienced golfer on the team next season.
“It’s really gone by fast,” Cheatham said. “I actually can’t believe that I’m a fourth-year. I’m really excited for next year, especially. We’ll have some new guys on the roster and new opportunities to grow together.
Re-entering the lineup after some physical hardships, Cheatham is aiming to continue to grow this postseason and in his final year at Cal.
Sophomore Kaiwen Liu
Liu first began playing golf in China. When he and his mother, neither of whom knew English, moved to the United States during his middle school years, their priority was to find a golf academy with players who spoke the same language as him.
During his two years in Riverside, California, Liu developed enough of an understanding of English to help out his mom and even negotiate real estate contracts in order to move to San Diego.
“It was no longer like a mother-son relationship,” Liu said. “It was more of us helping each other out and trying to adjust to this new world.”
Despite only being a sophomore, Liu will be one of the team’s most experienced golfers next year. He notes that he learned more than just golf from his experiences with his older teammates and will use that wisdom to be the best possible leader for next year’s team.
“This will be the last time for me to learn from Collin, K.K. and Seb,” Liu said. “Being the best that I can be on and off the golf course and working as hard as I can — hopefully, that will bring a positive influence to other team members.”
Freshman James Song
Although this is his first year at Cal, Song is no stranger to high-pressure competitions. Song’s experience in junior golf and high school golf served as practice for competitions such as the Pac-12 championships and other upcoming postseason events.
And, really, he feels like he has been golfing his entire life. His dad and brother also played golf — Song’s father practically put a golf club in his hand as soon as he could walk.
But collegiate golf is a new challenge.
“It’s definitely different,” Song said. “You have the best high school players competing in the same field, so if you’re not out there shooting under par every day, you’re not going to finish well.”
Education is a priority for Song, so picking a school that was well regarded in both academics and golf like Cal was important to him. But with this comes additional struggles such as balancing a heavy course load with practice and a difficult travel schedule.
“It’s hard enough to just be a student here,” Song said. “I’ve really had to work on my time management to keep my grades up and play golf.”
Akshara Majjiga covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected].