Men’s golf ranks No. 15 in OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational

Photo of a Cal men's golf player
Karen Chow/File

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The Cal men’s golf team is returning to the Bay after their weekend long tournament at the Olympia Fields, Illinois, competing in the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational. Competing against 15 teams, the Bears had their work cut out for them. Their performance landed them at No. 15 overall in the tournament. However, the Bears are not dwelling on the loss, but instead using it to bolster skills and expertise as they look towards the rest of the season.

The weekend began with a combined 302 (+22) strokes Friday. The course was tough to navigate, but freshman Simon Kwon managed to lead the Bears with the lowest score, 74 (+4) strokes and a No. 43 overall ranking by the end of round one. Cal ranked No. 15 overall.

Other notable performances of round one included redshirt freshman Ethan Chung’s delivery of 75 (+5) strokes that earned him a tie for No. 51 overall. Chung’s teammates followed his lead as redshirt freshman Tony Chen and redshirt sophomore Costas Panay tied for 61st and 70th.

As they headed into the second round, the Bears knew that they started off the weekend on a low note.

“At first I was tough on them after the golf course. You can be tough, but you also have to be encouraging,” said Walter Chun, Alex and Marie Shipman director of men’s golf. “I shared with each of them why I chose them to come to Cal. I wanted them to know that they had a place at Cal for a special reason and I wanted them to know what those reasons were and are to build more confidence and encourage them rather than beat them down.”

The next day, the Bears teed off at 6 a.m., determined to salvage what was left of the competition.

Day 2 brought glimmers of hope for the Bears: The blue and gold improved three strokes from their first day of the tournament and delivered a combined 299 (+19).

While Panay shot a team-best three-birdies in his round, Kwon remained Cal’s top scorer for the day. Tied for 43rd, he delivered one stroke over Friday’s total, carding a 73 (+3) by the end of round two.

Improvement is what Coach Chun sought from the weekend. Going into the third round, the Bears had seen improvement in their swings and their scores, but their No. 15 rank stayed consistent.

Chung teed off at 6:30 a.m. to initiate the beginning of the end of the tournament. Round three saw enhanced skill and technique, as the Bears delivered their best performance of the weekend, shooting seven over par (287) as a team.

Kwon emerged as the team leader of the weekend, placing 39th overall in the tournament and shooting a 72 (+2) in round three. Sophomore Sampson Zheng and Panay were the top scorers Sunday, carding 71s (+1) and producing a team-low of the weekend.

The improvement likely occurred as a result of more time spent on the course.

“There’s no doubt that playing the course over and over you get more comfortable with it. The first round of the golf course intimidated the group,” Chun said.

The gradual improvement over the weekend was important for Cal — it showed that the team has the potential to steadily improve throughout their season.

The Bears have time to relax and recuperate before clawing their way into their next tournament Oct. 4 to Oct. 5 at Maidstone Club for the Hamptons Intercollegiate in East Hampton, New York.

These next two weekends will be crucial for the team to gain their footing for the season.

“I believe the players have a lot more room to grow and must go the extra mile,” Chun said.

Cal fans are looking forward to the next competition to witness the Bears move past their early season struggles and swing their way to the top.

Alisa Steel covers men’s golf. Contact her at [email protected].