A new year will always come with new challenges. For the Bears, their first comes in the form of the Arizona Thunderbirds Intercollegiate hosted by the University of Arizona.
The tournament is set to feature 54 holes across two days, Jan. 30 and 31. 15 teams will participate in the event, headlined by No. 11 Texas A&M and hosts No. 22 Arizona.
Arizona is once again the defending champion of its home tournament, having won the previous five tournaments in a row. The Bearcats won both the team and individual titles in the 2022 iteration of the Arizona Intercollegiate as then-graduate senior Christian Banke secured the dual victory on the final hole. As a team, Cal finished tenth last winter with then-sophomore Aaron Du coming two strokes short of a tie for third place.
The Bears feel more energy in their system coming off a restful winter break. The team has come together the last few weeks to get back in the saddle, preparing to build some strong momentum in 2023. In October, the Bears won the Alister MacKenzie Invitational, their first tournament win in nearly four years, and they fully intend to ride that high throughout the remainder of the season.
“It further proved to the guys that it’s amazing what confidence can do,” said head coach Walter Chun. “They were so confident going into that tournament (the MacKenzie), they just felt like they were unbreakable, they felt like the Justice League. They were so confident in themselves and that helps us in the long run.”
The team has been making strides towards better performances, and they will be playing with strong talent in Tucson Monday morning.
Junior transfer Jeewon Park will be playing from the number one slot. He will be paired with three other one-slot players in the tournament. Park has no doubt brought his expertise over to the Bay, appearing in every event for Cal this season.
Playing together from the two and three slots will be juniors Sampson Zheng and Aaron Du. The two longtime staples of the team are coming off a period of long rest, having last competed in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in late October 2022. Zheng led the team with his second-place finish at the MacKenzie, paving the way for the Bears to secure that victory.
Rounding out the lineup in the four and five slots are redshirt junior Costas Panay and Freshman Daniel Heo. Both golfers have appeared in just two events for the blue and gold this season, but they did spend their winter break competing in other tournaments to hone their craft. They have undoubtedly impressed Coach Chun with their drive and will look to further do so in Arizona.
“In terms of tournament prep, my hope is that by competing internally it’ll help them prepare for the pressure that they’ll face when they are playing in Tucson,” Chun said.
The Bears are looking to continue building on their early season success, and that all starts in Tucson next Monday. It will be one of two tournaments Cal will play outside the state of California during the regular season — just the stage they need to set the tone for a successful campaign.
“It’s exciting to get back in competition. It’s an early tournament to play in, but I like playing early because it gives us a chance to compete,” Chun said. “I like how our schedule sets up a lot of California tournaments, so I think Tucson is a great start for us.”