Sept. 29 saw the Cal women’s and men’s golf teams up to take on Stanford in the Big Match. Stanford was the favorite heading into the game, as both its men’s and women’s teams perch at the very top of their respective national rankings. The Cardinal’s men and women executed to perfection to claim bragging rights over the Bay Area.
The teams combined to create six mixed duos that battled in a four-ball contest. In this format, each player had their own ball, with the player shooting the lowest score winning the hole for their team. The duo that won the most out of 18 holes would win their two-on-two matchup, counting as 1 point on the scoreboard.
The Bears kept pace with Stanford through the opening two games. Following Cal’s first-match loss, juniors Aaron Du and Cristina Ochoa combined to win the second. The duo jumped out to a commanding four-stroke lead by the 13th hole, one they narrowly maintained to win by a one-hole margin and tie the proceedings.
After conceding to Du and Ochoa, Stanford tightened some screws and found its groove — its best golfers were up next, and they won the next three games to clinch the Big Match.
Michael Thorbjornsen, a 2022 second team All-American, and Rose Zhang, one of the most accomplished golfers in NCAA history, delivered particularly dominant performances over Cal freshman Nathan Wang and graduate transfer Annika Borrelli to give Stanford its 3rd point of the afternoon, one win away from victory.
Zhang caught eyes with a gorgeous chip-in for eagle to give Stanford a four-shot lead, which the Cardinal expanded to five shots before taking the win.
Then, Stanford’s Karl Vilips and Rachel Heck, the 2021 women’s NCAA individual champion, overcame redshirt sophomore Tony Chen and junior Mika Jin by four shots to win the Big Match.
After the outcome had already been determined, Cal junior Sampson Zheng and sophomore Jieming Yang took the tournament’s final game, thanks to a clutch birdie from Zheng on the 18th hole, to slightly narrow the Bears’ final deficit at 4-2. Cal’s record in the Big Match is now 2-1 since the competition’s birth in 2018.
Now, having the taste of defeat spoon fed by the hands of their nemesis, the blue and gold will have to immediately turn their focus toward the Blessings Collegiate Invitational on Oct. 3 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The tournament, hosted by the University of Arkansas, will include 11 teams, seven of which are ranked in the top 50 — Cal will comprise part of the less-accomplished minority.
However, the Bears are no stranger to tough competition. In its first and only tournament this season, the Olympic Club Invitational, Cal finished just one stroke behind No. 5 UCLA and held an eight-stroke lead over No. 11 San Jose State after 36 holes. It exerted its dominance over the unranked remainder of the pool to finish third out of 10 teams.
Both UCLA and San Jose State have since tumbled in the polls, so the Blessings Collegiate Invitational will be necessary to effectively gauge the Bears’ capability against top national teams, notwithstanding the exceptional case of Stanford.Only three days of rest stand between Cal and the tournament Monday. The tournament will be available to watch on the Golf Channel and through NBC Sports.