The Bears have come out of the winter break looking like a team on a mission. Cal placed third in the Arizona Thunderbirds Intercollegiate, finishing at 23 under par in the 15 team field. The tournament was won by No. 11 Texas A&M at 36 under par, slightly edging out the five-time reigning champion No. 22 Arizona by three strokes.
The Bears traveled to Tucson with one thing on their minds, and that was to make a statement. In the team lineup for the Thunderbirds Intercollegiate were juniors Aaron Du and Sampson Zheng, junior transfer Jeewon Park, redshirt junior Costas Panay and freshman Daniel Heo. Freshman Nathan Wang made the trip as well, but entered the tournament as an individual participant.
The 54-hole tournament was split into three 18-hole rounds across two days. Play was halted Monday night due to darkness and the remaining holes were played on Tuesday morning. The Bears held their own throughout the tournament, keeping their poise until the final stroke.
Panay had led the way for Cal in the first round, shooting four under par and getting himself into a tie for seventh. Park and Heo were not far behind — Park carded a three under and finished the first round in a tie for 12th, while Heo went two under and tied for 17th. Wang and Du finished round one in a tie for 28th at one under. Zheng escaped round one in a tie for 45th shooting one over.
Round two was suspended Monday night, but all six competing Bears had been through at least 12 holes before play was stopped. Du came ahead of his teammates this round, carding four under and finishing in a tie for 13th. Park produced a score of three under, bringing him up to a tie for ninth. Panay produced a 70-stroke performance in round two — two shots over his round one score — bringing him to the ninth place tie as well. Zheng skyrocketed the leaderboard in round two with his three under par score, bringing him up to a tie for 24th. As for Heo and Wang, they both shot one over, putting them at a tie for 30th and 36th respectively. As a whole, the team produced a score of 276 (-12) in the second round, this was the lowest team score in the 15-team field in this round.
The final round put a tournament win out of reach for the Bears as the team scored a 287 (-1) in this round. Three Bears went over par on their way to the finish. Park and Panay both went over one, and finished in a five way tie for 14th, the highest individual placing in the team. Zheng and Wang finished in a five-way tie for 19th while scoring two under and four under, respectively. Du went two over in his final round, finishing in a three way tie for 24th. Rounding out the Bears was Heo, who scored one under on his way to a three way tie for 27th.
The final team score for Cal was 841 — their lowest tournament score up to this point. Their previous lowest came in the Alister MacKenize Invitational win, carding an 843 total score. While ultimately being edged out by ten strokes, the Bears were able to stay within striking distance of defending champion Arizona throughout the tournament.
The team has roughly two weeks to prepare for the next tournament on their calendar — the John A. Burns Intercollegiate in Hawaii. The three-day tournament will run Feb. 16-18, with junior Aaron Du entering as the defending individual medalist. This outing in the desert proves that the team has put in the work to be among the top in the nation.