The last time Cal men’s golf competed in an event without alumnus Collin Morikawa was just over a year ago, when the team took 11th place at the Carpet Capital Collegiate. Morikawa returned for the next tournament and springboarded a campaign which not only took Cal men’s golf to the NCAA championship for the first time since 2016, but also earned Morikawa Pac-12 Men’s Golfer of the Year honors and launched his PGA career.
Flash forward to last weekend, and the Bears found themselves once again in a creaky situation without Morikawa. Cal men’s golf opened its 2019-20 schedule in Illinois for the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invite at Olympia Fields Country Club where the team tied for 12th place out of 14 squads.
This 37-over performance through 54 holes was a far cry from last season, in which the Bears captured third at the same event behind a 5-under performance from Morikawa.
With Morikawa now on to the PGA Tour (where he won his first event in July at the Barracuda Championship), it was on sophomore James Song to lead the Bears in this year’s event at the par-70, 7219-yard Olympia Fields Country Club.
Song, who turned in a 3-under-par 67 to match Morikawa in the first round at this event last fall, recorded a similar 2-under-par 68 Sept. 20 to spring into second place overall through the first 18 holes. Song was followed by Cal freshman Kento Yamawaki, who logged an even-par 70 (T13th). These low numbers boosted Cal into a tie for fifth with Texas A&M and Baylor at the end of the first day.
The second 18 holes of last weekend’s event took place during a windy afternoon, and gusts were not kind to the Bears’ scores. All but one of the starting five tacked on at least two strokes to their total, with Cal’s leader Song completing a 6-over 76 to fall into 24th place individually. Not one Bear carded under 75, although redshirt freshman Connor Golembeski stayed consistent, firing a score of 75 in each round of the tournament.
Redshirt senior Jamie Cheatham turned in Cal’s best round of the day Sunday, logging an even-par 70 to put him at 8-over for the tournament.
Unfortunately for Cal, a rough second day sent the Bears down to 11th place and they were unable to recover Sunday. Cal emerged with a tie for 12th with Oklahoma State, 2018’s OFCC/Fighting Illini Invite champion, at 37-over-par for the weekend.
Cal and Oklahoma State are expected to turn in notable seasons in 2020, as both were both ranked in the Bushnell Golfweek Preseason Poll with Oklahoma State at No. 4 and Cal at No. 16.
Cal men’s golf will have a few opportunities to prove itself in its fall schedule, with an upcoming shot as it hosts its sole home event of the season at the Meadow Club in Fairfax, Calif. from Oct. 7-8. This event is the 17th installment of the Alister MacKenzie Invitational and will precede Cal’s second annual co-ed Big Match at Stanford on Oct. 9.
This four-ball event pits a representative from the men’s and women’s teams against their opposing pairs. Last year, the Bears secured a victory in the inaugural Big Match behind a two-hole playoff triumph from a Morikawa and Cindy Oh pairing. This year, Cal will square off again at Menlo Country Club against a Stanford men’s squad fresh off a 2019 NCAA championship title.
After battling for rivalry honors, Cal men’s golf will compete in two more outings before launching its spring 2020 campaign, with hopes of returning to the form that earned the team a spot in the NCAA championship just a few months ago.
Cal’s No. 16 preseason ranking was not solely based on Morikawa’s presence. This is a solid squad with a lot to prove during the upcoming fall tournament set. Now, it is only a matter of cleaning up the team’s game and working as a unit against the course ahead.
Ethan Waters covers men’s golf. Contact him at [email protected].