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Bear Men's Golfers Preparing for NCAA Championship

May 19, 2019
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After a three-year absence, Cal’s men golf team is heading to the NCAA championships. The current seniors who were members of that 2016 team which tied for tenth did not think it would take this long to return. With six NCAA appearances in the previous seven years, they regarded making the championship as a rite of spring.

“Entering college I felt we would be in it every year,” said senior Sebastian Crampton. “But it didn’t work out that way. We know how hard it is to win a championship.”

“I came to Cal knowing this was one of the best programs in the country,” said Pac-12 Player of the Year Collin Morikawa. “To miss out the last two years, that was tough.”

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Collin Morikawa 

Head golf coach Walter Chun, who took over as the role in Aug. 2016 after 14 years on the staff,  feels that the disappointments are a part of growing up. “You can’t always succeed in golf or in life,” he said. “Disappointments or setbacks are all part of golf experience, life experience, If the roles were reversed, and we made it last year and breezed through, this year we might not have made it

“Everything happens for a reason. It is just part of growing up as a coach and as a golfer. It is was a setback the first two years but we learned from those.”

Crampton and KK Limbhasut red-shirted in 2017, one of the reasons the Bears did not reach the finals that year. “But we have had good teams and having played in the nationals only once is a disappointment,” Limbhasut said. “ We have a chance to compete this year and we will just see how far we can go.”

The University of Arkansas, whose home course is Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, is this year’s host. The course is something of a mystery to the Bears.

“I’ve heard bits and pieces from Arkansas players and guys who have played it previously,” Crampton said, “And then I have seen pictures. But obviously, have not seen it in person.

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KK Limbhasut

"I have heard more than once that is the hardest golf course you have ever played. I have heard it’s tight off the tee and the greens are not that forgiving.”

The length itself is intimidating

“The only thing I know is that it’s a very very long course,” Morikawa said. “I think that it will be about 7,550 yards. “I read a little something about it. It is going to be challenging. It is going to be fun to go out there against the best golfers in the country.”

Limbhasut said he heard it is similar to last year’s championship course in Stillwater, Ok. “But I heard this one is even harder,” he said. “We played Arkansas a few times the last couple of years, and their guys tell me their course is really tough.”

Even Chun is somewhat in the dark.

“It’s a long golf course,” he said. “I think it is kind of like Stillwater in that it is penalizing. It is 7,550 yards and a long walk throughout. I don’t think the tee boxes and greens are that close to one another.

“Scores could be very high. We are going to have our A game. We are going to have to save par when we need to.”

Cal will have access to the course for only one practice round before the tournament starts on Friday. “We have Google maps that give you an idea of what it would look like from above,” Chun said. “We’ve got these strapoline books that are going to be coming our way. So we will be able to see what the course looks like before we get there. Granted it is just a piece of paper, but it gives us an idea how far the par-3s are, what the green undulations are like, where the landing spots for the drives are. These books give us a good road map of what we can expect.”

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Sebastian Crampton

Chun points out that with Arkansas having failed to qualify, no team will have a true “home course” advantage.

“We are all going to be in the same boat in terms of making the most of that one practice round,” he said. “Our guys are pretty perceptive. It is a matter of just finding the lines off the tee, where the penalties might be around the greens and on the fairways. We just have to take good notes.”

And Morikawa is confident the Bears will be able to handle it.

“It is just like any other course,” he said. “Figuring out where you should hit the ball off the tee, where you should get in position. I think course knowledge helps for some, but at the end of the day, you have to go out there and dissect the course. You can play golf and learn everything, but we just have to stick to our game plan and go out there and win.

“You rarely get to play a course that measures 7,500 yards. You really don’t know what the course is going to play like. It could be really different if the wind switches between the first and second round. You kind of have to have a little luck with the draw you get and tee times.

“I don’t think the distance will bother us. We are a good ball-striking team. We know how to get the ball from tee to green and then it comes down to are we going to make some putts.”

Crampton feels club selection might be different from what is done on a shorter course.

“It will be more mid irons in the par 4s, long irons in the par 3s, not much chance to reach the par 5s in two,” he said. “I think we have to be a little patient out there.”

For the second straight year, Morikawa is a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award, the “Heisman Trophy” of college golf.  The presentation dinner is Monday night in Dallas and Morikawa will have plenty of company. The entire team is planning to attend. Chun came up with that idea but wasn’t sure he could pull it off.

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Coach Walter Chun

 

“I thought about it for a little bit,” he said. “I went with Collin last year and it was such a great experience in terms of just the ambiance, recognizing Collin’s accomplishments along with the accomplishments of the other finalists.

“They (the Cal golf team) are all good friends who are going to be in touch with each other for a very long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if these seniors aren’t in each other’s weddings at some point. And I thought it would be a good gesture to see if we could all go. Support Collin, win, lose, or draw.

“These guys have to buy in as well, They have a lot going on. They have to move out of their apartments and they’ve got family in town for graduation. Thankfully they are on board.”

Morikawa appreciates the gesture.

“It is going to be very special,” he said. “Last year it was really cool and I know this year is going to be really special having the guys there”

It will not be all fun and games.”It will be an opportunity to get in some practice in Dallas,” Chun said. “It will be good in terms of adapting to humidity and Bermuda grass.”

 

NCAA GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP FORMAT

The 30 teams who qualified plus six individuals not on qualifying teams all play 54 holes. Then the field is cut to the top 15 teams and top nine individuals not on qualifying teams. They play 18 holes. The low scorer after those 72 holes is the individual champion. The top eight teams advance to match play. The winner of each match moves on until the champion is determined.

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