In a 15-team tournament boasting squads such as No. 1 Texas Tech and No. 13 Arizona State, No. 52 Cal men’s golf was slated to finish 12th if such pretournament rankings held stable.
The Bears, however, proved they can hang with the best by taking fifth place behind a 1-over-par performance at the 54-hole Tavistock Collegiate Invitational in Windermere, Florida this week, nestled between Texas Tech and Arizona State.
It’s not a surprise that Cal logged such a solid outing. After all, the Bears are fresh off a victory at the Big Match and a second-place finish at the Alister MacKenzie Invitational. But, taking those quality, close-to-home starts to Florida is not the simplest task.
“It’s one thing to play well on your home course, but it’s another thing to take it cross-country. For them to take that confidence from the Meadow Club, especially Finigan, to Florida, it’s
a huge step forward for us, and I’m excited to see what the spring holds,” said Walter Chun, Cal’s Alex and Marie Shipman Director of Men’s Golf.
Chun’s particular reverence for junior Finigan Tilly is certainly warranted, as Tilly carded a 7-under-par outing for the event to emerge tied for third place ⏤ the best finish of his collegiate career.
“I feel great. I was kind of in a new place. I’ve been in contention in amateur events, but this was quite a big college event with good coverage. … I wasn’t able to go too low (Tuesday), but I hung tough,” Tilly said.
Tilly found himself alone in first place heading into Tuesday’s round after logging a 67 and a 70 on the first two days at the Tavistock invite, so it’s needless to say he felt some tension the night before.
“I felt quite a bit (of pressure) just because I had a solo lead, but once I teed off, I didn’t feel so much pressure. But (Monday) night I definitely felt some pressure. It’s tough sleeping with the lead of a tournament so big,” Tilly said.
The tournament was indeed as big as the 7,544-yard track at Isleworth Golf & Country Club upon which it took place, but Tilly held strong and rode a strong showing inside of 100 yards to record an even-par 72 Tuesday.
“I’m really proud of Finigan. He never buckled down. This is probably one of the best finishes here by any Cal golfer. He just played solid. … He played his own game and didn’t get rattled,” Chun said.
Tilly’s wedge play and putting were significant factors in his scoring ability this weekend, as was the case for the rest of the Bears, who placed emphasis on dialing in around the greens in practice leading up to their Florida trip.
“It’s been a good team effort. We’ve all been doing wedge practice. … when you’re good inside 100 yards, it’s tough to make bogeys,” Tilly said.
Cal freshman Kento Yamawaki finished the Tavistock invite tied for 26th at 2-over-par, followed by redshirt senior Jamie Cheatham (T38, +5), junior Kaiwen Liu (T43, +6) and sophomore James Song (T60, +10).
Despite a less stellar outing Sunday, Liu logged two crucial birdies over his final six holes Tuesday to help the Bears remain in the race at the top of the leaderboard alongside some of the top talent in the nation.
“I can tell that they’re a resilient group. … even in the first round, we didn’t play holes eight, nine and 10 very well but still made birdies down the stretch. When they make mistakes, they’ve been able to bounce back. They definitely have character,” Chun said.
The Bears have enough character to land among some of the best college golf has to offer.
Moreso, they’re proving that they belong at the top.
Ethan Waters covers men’s golf. Contact him at [email protected].