Bears are at the top of the food chain when it comes to the forest. They thrive in heavily forested areas with cooler temperatures. Depending on the species and location, their habitats can range from prairies to the snow. Where bears don’t do well is in the desert. This was evident when Cal went to Cabo to compete on the desert golf course.
Cal went to the Cabo Collegiate to battle it out against top-tier competition. Fourteen of the 15 schools that competed are ranked in the top 50 in the nation. Along with No. 29 Cal, three other Pac-12 programs competed in the tournament: No. 9 Arizona State, No. 14 Arizona and No. 35 Stanford. The first round proved to be insurmountable this time around yet again, as the Bears finished the tournament behind all three of their Pac-12 foes.
“We didn’t handle our patience very well and we were a little overaggressive on certain shots and certain holes. It caught up to us,” said Walter Chun, Cal’s Alex and Marie Shipman director of men’s golf, of the first round. “We didn’t do a good enough job of hitting the ball on the fairway off the tee.”
The Bears found themselves in last place after shooting 13-over-par as a team on day one. They were able to flip the script on day two, shooting 5-under-par collectively and climbing four spots up on the leaderboard. The 18-stroke improvement was indicative of Cal’s grit, which it’s shown all spring.
“We hit the ball considerably better. We put ourselves in position to make birdies and secure pars,” Chun said of the team’s second-round performance. “We didn’t play well in the first round. We had to make amends for that and we did.”
Although Cal would’ve liked to finish higher on the leaderboard, there were many positive takeaways from the tournament. Junior Kaiwen Liu shot the lowest score for the Bears. His first round was the only round he shot over par (+3). Liu was able to limit his bogeys the rest of the way, as well as score an eagle in the final round. He finished the tournament with a 1-over-par 214, good for 26th individually.
Fellow junior Finigan Tilly had a solid overall tournament as well. He paced his way to a 4-over-par 217. His best moment came amid the grueling first round, when he was able to eagle a par 4 on the 11th hole. Redshirt senior Jamie Cheatham led Cal in birdies with 12. He logged a 5-over-par 218 in Cabo, just one stroke behind Tilly.
Freshman Kento Yamawaki failed to shoot a round under par in the tournament, logging a 12-over-par 225. He found himself in a love-hate relationship with hole four. On the first day, he bogeyed the hole, but Yamawaki came back with a vengeance and went on to eagle that same hole twice, in the second and third rounds.
The coaching staff’s main takeaway from the tournament was the team’s ability to respond to a tough first round. The Bears have struggled in early rounds throughout the season and have continued to make adjustments to give themselves a chance to climb the leaderboard. Eventually, Cal must start strong in order to find success, but its resilience has not gone unnoticed.
Sophomore James Song’s ability to bounce back embodies this Cal team’s mentality. Song finished with the worst score of the weekend, but his 17-stroke improvement from round one to round two is something he can be proud of. He went from shooting 16-over-par (87) on day one to shooting 1-under-par (70) on day two.
“To improve 17 shots takes a lot of mental strength and courage,” Chun said. “To come back the next day (from round one) in a pretty pressure-packed tournament with a lot of good teams, to shoot 1-under-par shows a lot of character.”
The Bears will get another chance to sharpen their game in San Diego, where they’ll compete in the Lamkin San Diego Classic from March 9-10. The Bears will be focused on cleaning up their first-round misfortunes in Southern California.