This is it. One last weekend for the supremely talented California Golden Bears Men’s Golf to fulfill their lofty promise. On paper, this year’s Cal Bears should be as dominant as the 2013 version that featured both Max Homa and Michael Kim - two Cal alum who have won PGA events in 2018 and 2017, respectively. The 2012-13 Cal Bears won just about every stroke event (11 of 13, with one 2nd and one 3rd place finishes), including the stroke play part of the NCAA championships (helped by Homa’s individual NCAA championship title) before faltering in match play. By comparison, the 2018-19 Cal Bears only won 2 events with three 2nd place and two 3rd place finishes on the season. Nonetheless, maybe fate would have it that the 2019 Cal Bears can do what the 2013 Cal Bears could not - win the program’s 2nd NCAA national championship.
This is the talented Cal five-some for the NCAA championship this weekend from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Jamie Cheatham (or possibly Ben Doyle if the website is to be believed) would be the sub. For the stroke play part, the top 4 scores will count toward the team score. The top 15 teams after the first 3 rounds will advance to Monday’s final round. After that, the top 8 teams (from the 4 round combined score) out of the 15 will advance to the match play part of the competition. Match play will take place Tuesday and Wednesday with Golf Channel live TV coverage.
Two days away from getting started at #NCAAGolf Championships. We begin Friday at 11:27 am PT. Our lineup is below ⤵️. #GoBears— Cal Men's Golf (@CalMensGolf) May 22, 2019
1. Collin Morikawa; 2. KK Limbhasut; 3. Kaiwen Liu; 4. Sebastian Crampton; 5. James Song; Sub. Jamie Cheatham pic.twitter.com/mLZqpTlAyx
Below are the reasons to be optimistic about the 2019 Cal Men’s Golf squad.
Reason 1: Collin Morikawa is a golf superstar
Being a finalist on back-to-back years for the Ben Hogan Award (given to the top amateur golfer in the country), Collin Morikawa is one of the steadiest golfer in Cal history. Morikawa has won 5 events in his Cal career, including the Pac-12 championship this year. Before the NCAA Regional, Morikawa has finished in the top 5 in every event this season. Golfstat has Morikawa as the 3rd ranked collegiate golfer in the country.
In the 2016 NCAA Championship, Morikawa finished in a tie for 10th. He is poised to lead the Bears in scoring again and may be the 4th Cal NCAA individual winner in history.
In match play, Morikawa has experience internationally playing for the winning USA squad, winning 3 of 4 matches in 2018, in the Arnold Palmer Cup (amateur/college version of the Ryder’s Cup). More recently, Morikawa paired with Cal women’s golf’s fellow senior Cinday Oh to beat Stanford in the inaugural Big Match last fall.
No matter how he fared in his final collegiate outing, Collin Morikawa should be a name that golf fans will be hearing on Sundays in the PGA tour.
Reason 2: Fellow seniors in KK Limbhasut and Sebastian Crampton are not too bad either
KK Limbhasut (-6 for 9th place) and Sebastian Crampton (-4 for 11th place) had a brilliant NCAA Myrtle Beach Regional to make sure that the Golden Bears finished in the top 5 to advance. Limbhasut (born in Thailand) also has international experience playing for the International team in the Arnold Palmer Cup against Morikawa and Team USA. He has won 4 individual events in his Cal career. At the 2016 NCAA Championship, Limbhasut (No.41st golfer by Golfstat) matched Morikawa by finishing in a tie for 10th.
Only being on the same squad as Morikawa and Limbhasut, does the brilliant Sebastian Crampton (No.31st golfer by Golfstat), who has just won 2 individual events in his Cal career, may appear to be overshadowed. Crampton is a fellow Pac-12 First Team selection this season. He also shares the Cal 54-hole record with Morikawa with a -17 outing in a 3 round event.
Having three experienced seniors make Cal a dangerous opponent IF they make it to match play.
Reason 3: Youth in Kaiwen Liu and James Song
Of course, if the seniors do feel some nerve due to this being their final collegiate event, Cal sophomore Kaiwen Liu (No.114th golfer by Golfstat) and freshman James Song (No.242nd golfer by Golfstat) will also be there. The two youngsters are still compiling their own impressive collegiate golf resumes.
Liu has 2 top-5 finishes in his young Cal career. He has also shot a 63 in a college round - which only Morikawa and Crampton can boast on the current squad.
Song has earned Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honor this season. He has 3 top-20 finish on the year. While Song’s score will probably be the one that’s dropped, the freshman can surprise if he gets hot in a particular round. Song has 3 rounds of shooting 67 this year.
Reason 4: Match play means more randomness
The reason why Cal Men’s Golf did not win in 2013 may work for the Bears in 2019. The match play part of the contest means that almost all 8 of the match play entrants have a good shot at winning the championship.
Besides, Golden Bears can rely on their 3 experienced seniors to make it to the top 8. Even if the youth falters, winning 3 of the 5 matches during match play will ensure a Cal victory (although they probably need some help from the 4th and 5th guy in match play, in reality).
Reason 5: This is not taking place in Oklahoma - Top Ranked and the defending champs Oklahoma State may be the favorite again
Last year’s NCAA champ, Oklahoma State, is probably the favorites in 2019, but this year’s final is not in their home course. Despite having 4 of the 5 starters from last year back, Oklahoma State probably won’t repeat as champions.
Of course, the Ben Hogan Award winner and the other finalist along side Collin Morikawa are both on the Oklahoma State squad.
Nonetheless, having the final being at a SEC course (Arkansas is the host) may be an equalizer for Cal (a Pac-12 squad) and Oklahoma State (a Big-12 squad). Outside of 2018, the top seed at the NCAA men’s golf championship has not won the NCAA Championship since it switched to a match play final 8 in 2009. In fact, there are more of a correlation between the host team winning (Oregon also won in Eugene in 2016) than anything else. For that, it’s perhaps fortunate that the host Arkansas (receiving votes but not in the top 25) did NOT advance past the NCAA Regional.
If Oklahoma State will not repeat, why not Cal?
IF Cal does make it to the match play round after Monday, I will have a post on the Golden Bears’ stroke play performance on next Tuesday [KNOCK ON WOOD].