Cal men’s golf’s first two tournaments posed some stark similarities. The Bears performed well in the opening 36 holes of both, earning themselves prime positions and afternoon tee times in the final rounds.
The wind picked up for the final 18 holes in each event, but so did the mental intensity that comes with seeing teams finish with low scores earlier in the day. This combination of unfavorable physical conditions and an acute awareness of expectations proved too much for the blue and gold to withstand.
After finishing tied for ninth place after the initial two rounds, the Bears plummeted 10 spots down the standings to 19th after notching a 20-over final round this week at The Prestige, a three-day, 54-hole event at PGA West in La Quinta, California.
“We just didn’t execute. We made some poor decisions that led to some big numbers,” said Walter Chun, Cal’s Alex and Marie Shipman director of men’s golf. “Compound that with four or five guys, and we couldn’t post a good score.”
Inexperience was the culprit of Cal’s pitfalls, as might be expected from a roster that started two freshmen and just one senior. Freshman Aaron Du, who led the Bears in their first tournament of the season, found himself toward the top of the leaderboard at 3-under par after two days of play. But a 6-over-par 77 in the last round erased Du’s red number and what would have been the first top 10 finish of his collegiate career, as he fell to a tie for 21st at 3 over. Senior Finigan Tilly, on the other hand, reaped the benefits of experience, firing a final-round 73 to complement his even-par efforts on the first 36 holes. This locked the San Carlos local in a tie for 17th — the fourth top 20 finish of his career and his first since he finished fourth at last season’s Southwestern Invitational.
“Mentally and physically, I know he didn’t get off to a good start today, but he stayed patient and hung tough. He hit a ball in the water on the 16th hole and still made bogey. Then he birdied the last two holes,” Chun said of Tilly’s performance in the third round. “His mindset was very even-keel and experienced — what he learned at North Ranch, he applied in between tournaments, and it really paid off for him and for us.”
Chun wanted to apply as much pressure as he could on his golfers at their first tournament at North Ranch Country Club, but he changed his tactics at PGA West. He encouraged confidence heading into the final round knowing that his golfers understood the task at hand without prompt.
In the end, however, it would appear that pressure, applied from Chun, is not at the forefront of Cal’s tournament miscues. It’s something to do with the internal stress experienced by each golfer, something that can only be attributed to the growing pains of inexperience young teams undergo. As experience develops throughout the season, the Bears will find their focus even under the most stressful of situations. Only then can they begin to pass their tests with flying colors.
“Golf is such a great sport because it always tests you. It tests how you respond to expectations, how you respond under pressure. Today was another test. We failed the test. But we have to grow from it,” Chun said. “An experience like this will set a precedent for better things, whether it’s in golf, school or even just life. A day like this can really benefit the guys in the long run.”