March 10, 2006
BERKELEY, CALIF. - Head coach Steve Desimone likes what he sees from his 2006 California Men's Golf team. Even though on paper the Golden Bears look like they might be going through a rebuilding year, featuring a top five that includes no seniors, and, at times, three freshmen, Desimone and his troops know a bright future lies ahead.
Cal does showcase a pair of talented Michaels - junior Michael Wilson and sophomore Michael Jensen. Wilson is the lone holdover from the Bears' 2004 NCAA championship squad and is a strong candidate for All-America honors. Known for his outstanding short game and for being possibly the best putter in the history of Cal Golf, Wilson was named Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and second-team All-Pac-10 in 2003. In 2004, his final two rounds of 69, 71 were instrumental in the Bears capturing the National Championship. After redshirting in 2005, Wilson is primed for an outstanding junior campaign as evident by his play in the fall, where he captured the inaugural UCLA CordeValle Collegiate by six shots and was named Pac-10 Men's Golfer of the Month for October.
Jensen immediately established himself as a major contributor last season as a true freshman and went on to earn Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 accolades. He competed in every spring tournament and tied for seventh at the Pac-10 Championship, shooting a one-under 283. This past fall, Jensen finished with a team-low 72.2 stroke average, placing 14th at the CordeValle Collegiate and 17th at the Alister MacKenzie Invitational.
"No question, Michael Wilson and Michael Jensen are our team leaders," said Desimone. "We are a team in transition that is sorting out its line-up, not just for this year's team, but for the next few years. Our young players have definitely had their moments, and that has the future of our program looking extremely bright."
One Bear freshman who has already had his share of "moments" is Aditya "George" Gandranata. A true freshman from Jakarta, Indonesia, Gandranata trained at the prestigious David Leadbetter Academy and is considered by the Cal coaching staff to be a legitimate Pac-10 Freshman of the Year candidate. He competed in all five of the fall competitions with a 73.8 scoring average, including shooting a season-low 68 with a hole-in-one and eagle at the Meadow Club during the final round of the Alister MacKenzie Invitational, helping the Bears capture the tournament title.
The newest of Cal's newcomers is freshman Romain Payet from La Montagne, Reunion Island (a French Protectorate) located in the Indian Ocean. Payet joined the Bears' program in January and immediately impressed the Cal coaches with his polished play. He is a solid ball striker and a good putter, and should consistently be in the Bears' top five. In 2004, Payet finished sixth in the final French Boys Ranking, and in 2005, Payet ranked 34th in individual rankings of French amateurs.
A pleasant surprise for the Cal coaches has been the play of true freshman Larry Wong from Diamond Ranch High School in Diamond Bar, Calif. Accurate from tee to green, Wong competed in all of the fall tournaments and showing dramatic improvement as the fall season evolved. A well-rounded student-athlete, Wong was his high school's Valedictorian and is planning on attending medical school after his Cal career.
Yet another impressive Bear newcomer is community college transfer Freddy Wolfe, a 6-5, 215-pounder from College of the Desert. Originally slated to redshirt, Wolfe improved so much in the fall that the Cal coaches decided to utilize him this spring. As a freshman at the College of the Desert, he had four top five finishes, including a third place spot at the Rio Hondo Invitational. Wolfe's father, Bob, played basketball and golf, and competed in track at Cal from 1966-68.
Freshman Erick Thorson is also in the mix for a spot in the Bears' top five. Thorson, from Westlake Village, Calif. has rapidly improved his game since the fall season and finished tied for third at the 2006 Livermore Valley Championship with a two-round 153. Junior transfer Diego Salas, from Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico, is working to earn a spot in Cal's top five as well. In 2004, Salas finished as runner-up in the Copa Ryder Match Play Championship, and placed seventh at the Torneo Annual de Golf del Club Campestre Monterrey.
Rounding out the Bears' 2006 squad are junior Brandon Beck and freshman Patrick Traughber, who will both be redshirting this spring. Beck has been a solid contributor for Cal the past two years and was a 2005 Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 selection after finishing tied for fifth at the Pac-10 Championship with a two-under 282. Traughber is a true freshman from Long Beach Poly High School.
"We are going to need really good play from Wilson and Jensen to challenge for an NCAA Championship Regional spot," said Desimone. "There is not a large margin for error on their part. Every tournament we are going to need those two to perform well, and have one of the other three players in our line-up make major contributions. That is a lot to ask for a team that is so young and inexperienced. But, there is a great word in golf, and that is `patience.' There are times when our young athletes will play great golf, and there are times when things will come apart. We are trying to find that happy medium. This could be a really good team by April. I have a lot of confidence in our younger players and I believe we can smooth things out by April and vie for an NCAA Regional berth. This team gives nothing but 100 percent, so I really believe this group can be something special sooner rather than later."