Cal men’s golf enters 3-month hiatus anticipating spring run

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Progress is defined by creativity. Whether it’s the latest AirPods design, adapted for better sound and comfortable wear, or the newest combo deal at Wendy’s, made to convenience your fast-food decisions, finding creativity abound is guaranteed. An innovative outlook promotes a resilient, well-designed product that can adapt to changing times.

For Cal men’s golf, the times have changed. After losing Collin Morikawa, a Pac-12 player of the year, to the PGA Tour at the end of last season, the Bears found themselves in a new position this season, looking for a leader to take them forward.

Junior Finigan Tilly stepped up in the fall with a tie for third at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational and an 8th-place finish at the Alister MacKenzie Invitational, and the Bears held their own as a team in new territory without Morikawa. But the fall is only a taste of what’s to come in the spring, and the Bears need creativity to ensure the first bite of that spring season is sweet.

But creativity in what way? You might not think of “golf” and “creativity” together, but the two are inextricably linked. If you’re a hack golfer who has played a round or two, you may have found yourself in the trees. In the woods, you have to create a shot that will take you to the hole in the least amount of strokes while avoiding the trees.

A competitive golfer’s ability to create shots is as important as any club or tool in their bag. How one uses spin and control can determine placement, which becomes particularly important near the hole. While the Bears hope to stay out of the woods (who would’ve thought?), they still must create new approaches to the green inside 100 yards.

“They can’t rely on their lob wedge so much. They have to use their pitching wedge and create different low shots. Just be more creative I guess. There are other ways to skin a cat from 100 yards,” said Cal’s Alex and Marie Shipman Director of Men’s Golf, Walter Chun.

Wedge play plagued the Bears throughout their fall campaign, though they improved as the season progressed. Cal men’s golf jumped from a No. 76 ranking at the start of the season all the way to No. 34 after their final tournament. But that’s not to say their improvement will cease.

“Cypress Point exposed our game again because we don’t control spin well sometimes. … and Olympia Fields exposed our shortcomings. But it can’t be an oversight of ‘Oh, it’s just been a bad day.’ I’m going to challenge (the guys) to go the extra mile,” Chun said.

After finishing the Alister MacKenzie Invitational in second place, defeating Stanford in the Big Match alongside Cal women’s golf and emerging from a stacked Tavistock Collegiate Invitational in fifth place, Cal men’s golf proved it has the potential to repeat a NCAA championship run even without Morikawa.

And the Bears are ready.

“We know there are some really good teams out there, but that’s not to say we can’t compete with them in the spring. We are really motivated to work hard in the offseason, and I think we can step up,” said redshirt senior Jamie Cheatham.

Cheatham teamed up with Tilly at the Cypress Point Classic for a best ball foursome round against No. 3 Georgia Tech and hung tough despite a close loss, as the match was cut short because of time constraints. This round was important, regardless, because it juxtaposed the Bears with some of the best college golf has to offer.

“I think our team feels good, but we also know that we need to work hard. I think this tournament came at the perfect time,” Tilly said. “It was good playing with Georgia Tech because we got to see the difference between our game and their game. … It’s basically a preview of the season.”

Cal men’s golf knows it must adapt and find creative ways to score inside of 100 yards to keep up with teams such as Georgia Tech come spring. Although the Bears won’t return to action until Jan. 27 at the Southwestern Invitational, the offseason grind is just beginning.

Ethan Waters covers men’s golf. Contact him at [email protected].