High-pressure situations are different in golf than in any other sport. Because of the extended periods of time between shots and between rounds, navigating mental taxation is one of the key aspects to prime-time performance on the links.
Walter Chun, Cal’s Alex and Marie Shipman director of men’s golf, knows this well. So rather than relieve his golfers of pressure in their first tournament from Jan. 25-27, he applied extra.
“I wanted to put as much pressure on them Tuesday night into Wednesday. When I say pressure, I said, ‘Wednesday is gonna be tough. It’s an important round.’ The course was gonna be tough — we were paired with Georgia Tech and USC,” Chun said.
But Chun’s Bears didn’t fare their best. The conditions were indeed rough, as predicted, but golf is often a game played between one’s own ears. While Cal didn’t have a variety of necessary ball flights dialed in to combat the windy conditions, the team also hadn’t yet fully developed the mental fortitude to execute on the final day, finishing ninth out of 12 teams.
This is exactly what the blue and gold hope to address in the abbreviated spring campaign ahead.
“I didn’t want to sugarcoat it. I know they’re young and have less experience. I wanted to try and put as much pressure I could on them, and granted, it probably backfired this time,” Chun said. “But I’d rather have them play under that kind of pressure early on than, say, in March, if I tell them they have an important round and I’ve never said that. So I’m trying to invest in the long-term benefits of the team.”
And though it’s just the second tournament of the season, the Bears’ upcoming event Feb. 15-17 will be chock-full of Pac-12 talent, making it an important early season round. Every conference team aside from Utah and both Washington schools will attend, as will No. 2 Pepperdine and No. 24 Texas Tech.
“Whether it’s on Golf Channel or it’s against big-name programs or not, I want them to reflect before the next tournament,” Chun said. “Whether they put too much pressure on themselves or whether they need to work on course management, I’d rather play poorly in our first event so we can trend upwards as the season goes on.”
Largely, the issues in the Southwestern Invitational, which was the Bears’ first event, were poor conditions Sunday and the nerves that come with inexperience and a long hiatus. Fortunately, as the Bears head to sunny La Quinta, California, this week for The Prestige at PGA West, they will compete in prime conditions, which the Coachella Valley is often acclaimed for in the golf world. So it’s safe to say the conditions that Cal needs to wrestle with the most are internal — the pressure of the event itself can be as tormenting as a windy day.
Coach Chun and assistant coach Chris Massoletti have implemented various drills to help the team withstand the stress of a big stage, particularly on and around the greens. On a more technical side, the blue and gold have worked on dialing in different flight paths, an inconsistency that plagued them at the Southwestern Invitational.
With senior Finigan Tilly at the helm, alongside freshmen Aaron Du and Sampson Zheng, the Bears are easing into a new team chemistry amid unfamiliar territory. It didn’t help that physical conditions skyrocketed mental pressure for some newcomers, but the Bears have now collected themselves and are working once more as a team for the first time in months.
La Quinta, here they come.
Ethan Waters covers men’s basketball, men’s golf and women’s golf. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ewate1.