Fresh out of break and back to reality can mean only one thing — life gets hectic. Cal men’s golf is no stranger to shaking off rust after extended breaks, especially as the team just enjoyed its annual event hiatus, one which dated back to October. But it’s safe to say that this week, the Bears will get back into a fuller swing than most.
No. 34 ranked Cal heads down to North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, California this week for the Southwestern Invitational — a two-day, 54-hole,12-team event which pits the Bears against a slew of ranked opponents. Among the fierce competition are top-10 opponents No. 4 BYU, No. 6 Pepperdine and No. 10 Arizona State, which preface No. 18 UCLA and No. 27 Stanford.
In the fall, Cal notched victories over Pac-12 opponents USC and Stanford, although the Stanford triumph came in a joint effort with the women’s golf team. Nonetheless, the Bears are ready to shake off the rust and get back to action with the help of a new mantra from Walter Chun, Cal’s Alex and Marie Shipman Director of Men’s Golf.
“It’s our first meeting. I want us to concentrate on four C’s: Confident, Compete, Communicate and Character,” Chun said.
This new focus aligns with the blue and gold’s refreshed lineup, which includes just three returner’s from last year’s Southwestern Invitational. In their previous spring campaign, the Bears captured a runner-up finish at the Pepperdine-hosted event, and while the invite is nearly a month earlier this year and will be played straight out of an extended hiatus, Cal seeks a similar performance.
“Every other team is gonna be rusty too. We’re all gonna be in the same boat, to be honest … I guess I hope our guys are ready to compete and play smart out there,” Chun said.
While a No. 34 ranking hypothetically pits the Bears towards the middle of the pack in this stacked event, the squad looks past a simple number. In fact, they believe their ranking isn’t indicative of their potential out of the gate.
“I think we’re better. I think we’re a top-25 team, top-20. We have the firepower to play with any team in the country. We just need the guys to better choose when to be aggressive and when to take their medicine,” Chun said.
Medicine must be taken at specific times. For Cal, however, it’s at a specific place — around the greens.
Chun and assistant coach Chris Massoletti preached the importance of dialing in around the flagstick all throughout the fall, although they know scoring remains a work in progress.
“The short game work? It’s gonna take time. It’s not gonna happen over a month or two. I did see, though, their putting and green speed improved,” Chun said.
That improvement may play an important factor in the Bears’ performance this week, as the greens at North Ranch Country Club run particularly fast. In fact, the importance of short game play cannot go understated.
“If they can start to pick and choose their spots and work on their short game and wedge play, we’re a top-15 team,” Chun said.
This confidence, however, is not the be-all and end-all for Cal men’s golf. The Southwestern Invitational is the first event of the new decade for the Bears. While it would surely set a precedent to finish at the top of the leaderboard come Tuesday, the underlying team goal is to learn from experience.
The lessons a team gathers from competing with some of the best programs in the country is priceless. As such, the blue and gold face their spring campaign with the opportunity to see the best, and in turn, lock in on what it takes to match elite competition.
“I want these guys to compete — play smart, play hard. And then whatever ends up being our result, if these guys are being fierce competitors, then that’s all I can ask for,” Chun said.
Ethan Waters is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].