Midseason musings: Bears navigate return to form

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Cal men’s golf, like most West Coast teams accustomed to a fall season, has had an unusually compacted time to find a rhythm as a group — it returned to practice just weeks before its first event. Four tournaments into a six-event campaign, the No. 99 Bears are still picking up the pieces from one of the most unexpected hiatuses in collegiate golf history.

Despite finishing in the bottom quarter of the field in both of their last two tournaments, Cal golfers found a way to compose a solid final round, a fault that limited their success in their former two events. The Bears finished 13th and 21st at the Cabo Collegiate — moved to TPC San Antonio this season — and the Stanford-hosted Goodwin tournament, respectively.

This isn’t the same team who logged four top-five finishes last spring. Cal lacks the same poise and experience this season, but golf is a fickle game. Assistant coach Chris Massoletti attributes much of the stumbles early on to an utter lack of experience.

“We’re obviously very young. And I don’t necessarily mean that in terms of age: Yes, we have two freshmen who start, but we don’t have a lot of guys who have experience playing in college golf tournaments before in a team format,” Massoletti said. “There’s been a learning curve, to say the least. We’re getting a dose of what ‘every shot counts’ means.”

Fortunately, the blue and gold have fixed their errors along the way and learned from their mistakes, taking each tournament as a teaching moment. Golf is as variable as it is internal, however, and finding a balance between dialing in and overcompensating can be tough on the mind. The Bears’ first two events were significantly windier than any they had previously experienced. Finding new shots and ball flights to combat the poor conditions quickly made its way to the forefront of areas the team needed to tighten up on.

But trying to do too much can often be just as much a problem as doing nothing at all. Cal’s falters in the last two tournaments can largely be chalked up to the same mental inexperience which has driven the season thus far.

“I’ve said this a lot, especially to the younger guys: ‘Do less.’ Because they’re trying to hit the perfect shot every time. They’ll try to hit a cut into a right-to-left wind, which works, but sometimes it’s like, no, man,” Massoletti said. “Just hit your normal shot, aim a little right of the target and roll one in.”

In Massoletti’s eyes, the Bears haven’t made mistakes this season — so long as they keep learning from their faults and correcting them in the future. If they keep up their current efforts and improve upon prior shortcomings, the transition into late-season play should be copacetic. Cal’s golfers will have a chance to keep traveling up the learning curve next week in Santa Cruz at the San Jose State-hosted Western Intercollegiate.

Ethan Waters covers men’s basketball and men’s golf. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ewate1.