This week’s Golden Medals will focus on solely on Cal Golf, a first for me since Golf has been overshadowed season long by other sports in my attention span for the past few years writing this weekly post. Look for my other posts today concerning Cal Softball in NCAA Auburn Regional and Women’s Tennis in NCAA Sweet 16.
Cal Women’s Golf at NCAA Championship
From Sugar Grove, Illinois, Cal Women’s Golf will compete in the program’s 10th NCAA Championship this weekend, starting on Friday morning. Golden Bears qualified as a team in 3 of the last 4 years (which requires a top 6 finish at the NCAA Regional which the Bears have made for 18 consecutive seasons under head coach Nancy McDaniel), missing out last year when only then freshman Marianne Li advanced as an individual. Bears will play 3 rounds of stroke play from Friday to Sunday, while hoping to advance beyond that as a top 15 team (one last round on Monday). The Top 8 teams after Monday will compete in match play. Individually, the top individuals (from the top 15 teams and the top 9 individuals that are not a part of the top 15 teams) after Monday (72 holes) will also be crowned as the individual NCAA champion.
Bears’ top finish in program history was 4th back in 2004, lead by Sarah Huarte who won the NCAA individual national title that year with a 10-under.
Golden Bears will again rely on the same 5-some of senior Lucia Gutierrez, juniors Marthe Wold, sophomore Marianne Li, and freshmen Maria Herraez and Jiyoon Jang. This is the same lineup that played at the Pac-12 Championship and the NCAA Regional.
Gutierrez, recently graduated with a degree in economics, has the valuable experience of playing in two previous NCAA championships. She has also earned All Pac-12 Honorable Mention honor for the past two seasons. The Peruvian native had to work super hard to earn a scholarship to her dream school, Cal; check out her story from Cal Sports Quarterly. Wold was the top Cal finisher at the Regional (tied for 11th). Li, who played the NCAA championship as an individual last year (tied for 58th overall), is playing her best golf of the season as of late. Freshman Herraez is the scoring leader for the Bears this year. Overcoming an ankle injury, Jang was able to win her spot in the Cal lineup late in the season over sophomore Amina Wolf.
For each round, the top 4 scores out of the 5 will count toward the team score.
Bears teed off this morning at 5:30 AM PT, pairing up with Texas and Baylor to start from the back nine.
The Golf Channel will have live coverage of the action on Monday through Wednesday. Hopefully, the Golden Bears will still be active then (and I make recaps/gamethreads for those days).
HOLE ON YOU BEARS!
Cal Men’s Golf season recap
The Cal Men’s Golf season is now completely over on Wednesday after Collin Morikawa falling short (by two strokes) of advancing to the NCAA Championships. Morikawa was in pretty good position heading into the 3rd and final round on Wednesday with an one stroke lead, but ran into trouble his first 9 holes on Wednesday. A triple bogey on 17th (Collin started on the back 9) was a real killer. Birdies on the 1st and 7th put Collin just one back with two holes to go, but it was not meant to be.
Morikawa concludes a great individual season in his sophomore campaign. In 11-stroke play events, he finished with 5 top-five (including a win at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational and forcing a playoff at Southern Highlands Collegiate), 8 top-ten, and 10 top-twenty. He is a semifinalist for both the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year and Ben Hogan Awards. His 69.94 season stroke is 5th best in the nation. Rightfully so, Morikawa was named to Pac-12 first team and is both the team’s MVP and Most Improved Player.
This was a weird year for Cal Men’s Golf, on the heel of long time coach Steve Desimone retiring at the end of last season. New head coach Walter Chun, a fellow Cal alum and long time assistant coach right here at Cal, knows how the Cal Men’s Golf players can best use their redshirt year to both improve their golf game while also make it to Haas School of Business.
The Cal Sports Quarterly article on the decisions of many Cal top golfers to redshirt in 2016-17 is a great read. Three of the Bears’ top 4 players from last year were redshirting this year (the other guy was Morikawa). KK Limbhasut and Sebastian Crampton both took a redshirt to focus on their academics, while improving their chances of getting into Haas. Jamie Cheatham missed the fall due to an injury and decided to take the rest of the season off to also focus on his own admission to Haas.
The hard times on the course initially hit the missing trio hard.
"Myself, Sebastian and Jamie were feeling like we weren't there for the team last fall, but we had a talk with Walter and he told us not to worry," Limbhasut said. "He repeated a couple of times that this was the right decision. He gave a good speech."
Chun truly believed in his words, but it was also difficult on the first-year head coach to watch his squad, once seemingly destined for greatness, struggle.
"Yeah, it's hard," said Chun, himself a Haas graduate who benefited from a redshirt season his first year at Cal. "No coach really wants to see your team finishing last because it's kind of a reflection of your coaching skills. I know it would have been in my best interest to have KK and Sebastian playing last fall and Jamie when he got healthy this spring, but I also know deep down inside that it is in their best interest to redshirt this season."
Chun is thankful to have the Cal administration's unwavering support.
"I'm supposed to be proving that I deserve this job and that I deserve to be coach Desimone's successor, but the circumstances worked out that redshirting three of our top four returning players was in their best interests," Chun said. "Our administration understands that and they share my vision about wanting what's in the best interest of our student-athletes."
Without those three key players from last year, the Cal lineup this year was Morikawa and then a big drop off in consistency. Bears finished 8th at the Pac-12 Championships to miss out on a team qualification to the NCAA Regional. Bears needed to best at least half of their opponents on the year to qualify for that “0.500 rule” without earning the Pac-12’s automatic bid. At the Pac-12, Morikawa finished tied for 6th while the lone senior on the team Walker Huddy finished 17th. Everyone else finished 40th or later.
The most unique moment of the season has got to be the two holes-in-one in back-to-back rounds (in two different holes) by Cal redshirt freshman William Aldred at the Western Intercollegiate.
The important thing to know for Cal fans is that the Bears should be back to full strength next year. The redshirting Golden Bears have played some great results in amateur events throughout the year, so they are not going to be rusty. Bears should have at least two good years, barring injuries, with this core to challenge for the program’s 2nd NCAA championship.
One last note, two Cal Men’s Golf alum will be inducted into Cal Athletic Hall of Fame as the Class of 2017. Congratulations to Charlie Wi and Steve Desimone.