Spring fling arrives early for Cal men’s golf

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Hawaii and Cabo San Lucas: Chances are, you know a college student who identifies one of these destinations as their spring break getaway. After all, who doesn’t love some sun and sand?

Though spring break doesn’t begin for UC Berkeley students until late March, Cal men’s golf will get a taste for the fling (but try to stay out of the sand) when the team competes in Kauai on Thursday through Saturday for the John A. Burns Intercollegiate invitational.

Twenty other squads will swing alongside the Bears, including No. 7 Arizona, No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 14 North Carolina and No. 16 BYU. No. 27 Cal ranks sixth in the field but isn’t a stranger to overcoming ranked expectations.

Cal already has experience this season against other top-ranked teams such as No.10 Arizona State, which edged the blue and gold by five strokes at the Southwestern Invitational last month. The Bears narrowly snuck past the then-No. 8 ranked Sun Devils in the fall, however, logging a one-stroke advantage in Florida at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational.

The team cracked the top 30 in Golfstat’s latest squad rankings Tuesday, clocking in at 27th after placing No. 76 following Cal’s first fall tournament in September.

This nearly 50-spot improvement over the past few months reflects the Bears’ ability to hang with some of the top teams in the nation, and after finishing ahead of then-No. 4 BYU by nearly 20 strokes at the end of January, potential is abundant.

Case in point: Cal was second in birdies only to No. 1 Pepperdine in its most recent outing at the Southwestern Invitational, where the Bears notched 53 birdies and performed the best in the field on the tough par-3 tracks (+15).

Junior Finigan Tilly, who is now ranked No. 43 individually according to Golfweek, was responsible for 15 of these birdies, which he attributed to a hot putter and giving himself chances throughout the final day of the tournament. Furthermore, freshman Kento Yamawaki logged a standout 66 (-6) to match the Southwestern Invitational’s lowest round.

“I think everyone can get a little confidence from that tournament because everyone pitched in,” Tilly said.

Tilly and Yamawaki will lead Cal in a shotgun start when they pair with Hawaii, St. Mary’s and UTEP in the tournament’s first 18 of 54 holes Thursday. Senior Jamie Cheatham, sophomore James Song and junior Kaiwen Liu will round out the top 5 in a repeat of last tournament’s lineup, which earned Cal a fourth-place finish among similarly elite counterparts.

The Bears’ advance spring trip won’t stop after Kauai, however. Cal will suit up for the Cabo Collegiate on March 1-3 in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, but again, the blue and gold will concentrate on staying out of the sand.

Ethan Waters is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ewate1.