Bears to host Pac-12 Championship, expand on newfound clarity

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Karen Chow/File

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There’s a certain bittersweetness associated with achieving significant progress at the end of any sport’s season. With a particularly young roster, however, Cal men’s golf is feeling the sweetness more than the bitterness as the team approaches its final regular-season event.

After an exceptional performance at the Western Intercollegiate Tournament landed senior Finigan Tilly in the top 10 individually and the Bears in the top half of the field as a team for the first time all season, Cal men’s golf seeks closure as it hosts the Pac-12 Championships at Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa.

But Walter Chun, Cal’s Alex and Marie Shipman director of men’s golf, isn’t ready to close the book on this season before jumping onto future accomplishments in seasons to come.

“I think it’s important to focus on what we’re doing now. We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves and think, ‘Oh, we’re hosting Pac-12s, so we need to do X, Y and Z to get into the postseason,’ or whatever it may be,” Chun said. “We’ve done all we can to prepare — we’ve played Mayacama eight to 10 times this season, which is a lot given the drive from campus. So we just have to take it for what it’s worth and stay in the moment.”

The blue and gold took sixth place out of a field of 13 last weekend at Pasatiempo Golf Course, a major mark of improvement for a team that struggled to find its rhythm and finish even toward the middle of the leaderboard in its prior events this spring. Tilly posted a 67 on his first day, and was able to maintain a position in the top 10 as the tournament concluded, despite a hiccup 73 on the second 18 holes. For the tournament as a whole, the Bears led the field on par five scoring, finishing 32-under.

Hiccups have been the name of the game for the Bears thus far this season, and their path to success is defined by how well they can manage their small mistakes — and more importantly, keep them small. After all, in golf, one bad shot can compound into a high number quickly.

“Pasatiempo is a course that can get the better of you if you let it, in terms of patience and frustration. So I was content to see the guys hanging tough despite the inevitable hiccups they had,” Chun said. “We didn’t get off to the best start in the third round, we had some tough hiccups, but it’s progress. I just hope it’s not too little, too late.”

Fortunately for the Bears, it’s not too late to show off their end-of-season form, nor will it be too uncomfortable. Cal men’s golf has multiple “home courses” — none of which are actually in Berkeley — and Mayacama has been a home for practice throughout their spring campaign. But with experience comes expectation, and though the blue and gold know the course and their play, the pressure of hosting a tournament as big as the Pac-12 Championships cannot be replicated.

“It’s a double-edged sword. There’s more pressure when you’re the host because expectations are greater,” Chun said. “Of course, it’s an advantage to play the course as many times as we have, but getting over the expectations not only each player has but that the Cal community has is a battle of its own. I’m just hoping for more consistency and that we can stay within ourselves.”

Cal men’s golf will host the Pac-12 Championships from April 26 to April 28 at Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa, California. But regardless of the results, it won’t be the end to the mark the team has made this season.

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