Cal overcomes sluggish 1st round, salvages John Burns Intercollegiate

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There are very few things that can compare to a weeknd in the Aloha State. I close my eyes and imagine myself on the beach sipping a (virgin) piña colada with a ukulele being played in the background. I can hear the waves crashing, the sun is shining, and I’m 13 strokes over par after the first round … wait, what?

For No. 28 Cal, all three of those ideas were reality last weekend as they competed against twenty other schools in the John Burns Intercollegiate invitational in Kauai. The battle-tested bunch found themselves in an all too familiar spot, trailing 16 schools after the first round.

“It’s tough when everyone has a bad day,” said red shirt senior Jamie Cheatham. “We might have been too aggressive with our shots on the greens and left ourselves in some rough spots.”

As with all outdoor sports, unpredictable weather can influence how well a player performs. The high winds proved to be an obstacle that the young golfers needed to adapt to going forward.

“A lot of the time (the wind) takes your ball and puts it in a spot you don’t want it to be,” Cheatham said. “It was definitely a challenge, but it was nice to see us kind of fight through it and play some good golf there in the second and third rounds.”

Cal battled back in the second round behind Cheatham’s 5-under-par 67. The senior was -1 with five holes left when he got hot and birdied four in a row to put him at 5-under for the day. His 67 was the second-best round in the entire field, as three players recorded a 66. Cheatham concluded the tournament at 213 (-3), finishing tied for 12th place individually.

The pair of juniors also shot under par in the second. Finigan Tilly’s 71 (-1) and Kaiwen Liu’s 70 (-2) helped propel the Bears up the leaderboards into a three-way tie for eighth heading into the final round.

“We played to our strengths a little bit better the second two days and took advantage of the holes that were easier out there,” Cheatham said.

The blue and gold rode their momentum going into the final day and it fueled their best round of the tournament. They tallied 279 (-9) in the final 18 holes and all four scoring golfers shot under par. The 22-stroke difference between the first and third rounds marked the best improvement by any school in the tournament. Sophomore James Song struggled to find a rhythm the first two days, but ended on a high note by logging a 68 (-4) in the final round. He overcame a double bogey on the 18th hole with six birdies and an eagle on the 9th.

Cal competed against four schools ranked in the top 20. They were bested by No. 10 Texas A&M, which finished first — and No. 15 BYU, which finished third. Cal ended the tournament in a three-way tie with St. Mary’s and Pac-12 foe No. 6 Arizona. No. 14 North Carolina finished just outside the top 10.

With two spring tournaments under their belt, Cal has proven they can swing with the best of them. With the Cabo Collegiate invitational just around the corner on March 1-3, they will get another opportunity to showcase their talents and climb the rankings even more.

If the Bears can flip the script and get their clubs going early, they might find themselves at the top of the leaderboard.

Nico Alba covers men’s golf. Contact him at [email protected].