March 9, 2012
LAS VEGAS - Cal leads a 15-team field that includes 11 squads ranked in the top 25 nationally after the first round of the prestigious Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters played on Friday. Ranked No. 7 nationally by Golfstat and No. 10 according to Golfweek, the Bears shot a two-under par team score of 286 at the par-72, 7,510-yard Southern Highlands Golf Club to lead host UNLV by a single shot.
"The team played phenomenal," said associate head coach Walter Chun. "We didn't get off to a good start playing some of the toughest holes on the golf course, but they really hung tough. They showed a lot of character by making birdies on a golf course that doesn't really yield many."
Chun is serving as the team's head coach for the tournament while Steve Desimone recovers from a health-related issue that prevented him from making the trip. Desimone is expected to be back with the team for its next event Mar. 18-20 at the Golf Coaches Association of America's Match Play Championship in Bradenton, Fla.
"Doctors' orders are to keep me home and resting for a few more days," Desimone said. "But I'm definitely improving and I fully expect to be ready to head back to Tampa next week."
"It's hard to step into coach Desimone's shoes," Chun said. "I know he wants to be here and I want to have him as involved as much as possible from the get go. He has 33 years of experience and I have to use that as the ace up my sleeve as to what to tell these guys and when to say it. I just have to draw on him as a resource even though he's not here."
"Walter knows the routine; he knows the drill," Desimone added. "He knows what to talk to the team about tonight and how to game plan. Walter and I have worked together for 13 or 14 years, and we know what each other is thinking. As a coaching staff that's really critical. We're working together whether I'm there or not."
Each of the four Cal players counting towards the team score on Friday are among the top 20 players on the player leader board. Max Homa and Joël Stalter are tied for 10th after opening rounds of one-under par 71, while Brandon Hagy and Keelan Kilpatrick are tied for 19th after even-par rounds of 72. Michael Kim is tied for 29th after a two-over par 74.
"I'm really proud of our team," Homa said. "To drop a 74 is really impressive on a course like this so everyone must have played really tough."
Logan McCracken of Texas A&M is on top of the player leader board after an opening-round six-under par 66.
The Bears were one of the teams that began play from the par-four 10th hole on Friday and Homa started his round with a birdie. He picked up another one on the par-four 14th to go to two-under and stayed there until the first of his two bogeys on the day on the par-three second. He answered with his third birdie on the par-five third but gave that stroke back with a bogey on the par-three eighth.
Stalter's solid round started anything but that way as he bogeyed three of the first four holes he played, taking an extra shot on the 10th hole that Homa birdied as well as the par-three 12th and par-five 13th. He began to rally with a birdie on the 14th. After eight consecutive pars, he finished strong with birdies on three of his last five holes - the par-four fifth and sixth, and the par-five ninth.
"This is definitely the best college tournament I've ever played in," Stalter said. "The course is just insane. It's really, really hard. You've got to play smart, hit really good shots and putt well. You can't make any mistakes or you will pay right away. But it's a pretty fair course. If you play well it's rewarding, but if you don't you have to suck it up and play tough."
Hagy was up and down early, sandwiching a double bogey on 12 with a pair of birdies on 11 and 13. After that he made par on 12 of the 14 remaining holes, with the only exceptions a bogey on the 17th and a birdie on two, both par-three holes.
Kilpatrick had more ups and downs than Hagy while matching his even-par round, with four birdies (16, 1, 7, 8) and four bogeys (11, 18, 5, 9).
"Having Keelan shoot an even-par round out of the fifth spot kind of took some pressure off our top four guys in the lineup," Chun said. "Anytime we can get some good play from that spot it really adds more depth and eases the pressure off the other guys."
Kim got off to a tough start at four-over par through his first five holes after a bogey on 11, a double bogey on 12 and another bogey on 14. But he rebounded by playing two-under par over his final 13 holes. His first birdie came on 16 and then after having immediately giving the shot right back with a bogey on 17, he came back with another birdie on 18 to get back to three-over. He started his second nine with a bogey on the first hole to slide back to four-over but then got hot with birdies on the second, fourth and sixth holes. He gave one of those strokes back with a bogey on eight.
The 54-hole event will continue with the second round of action Saturday. The first tee time is scheduled for 8 a.m. PT, with Kim the first Cal player off the first tee at 9:30 a.m. PT. Kilpatrick, Hagy, Stalter and Homa are scheduled to follow in nine-minute intervals. The Bears will play in groups of three with each Cal player matched up with one player each from second-place UNLV and third-place Texas A&M.
"It's no surprise because we've been in the top 10 all year," Desimone said from his home. "We have not had a bad round yet, hopefully I didn't jinx us, so no surprise. But this is a great golf course and a great field, and this is only one round so no celebrations yet. We've got a long way to go, but it's better to be in first than any other place right now."
Cal has already tied a regular-season school record with three team victories in 2011-12 and will break the mark with its next win.
"We still have two grueling rounds to go," Chun said. "It's always tough to be the leader in the clubhouse because everyone is gunning for you. It's going to come down to who is the toughest, smartest and most patient team out there, but I like our chances. We have five really tough kids and their character showed today based on the average start that we had and then the strong finish."
"It's really nice to see our name on the top of such a great leader board," Homa added. "You feel like if you play well and you do well that you've really earned it. You really have to earn what you get here and that makes today's round feel that much better."
Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters (hosted by UNLV)
Las Vegas, NV - Southern Highlands Golf Club (par-72, 7,510 yards)
TEAM LEADER BOARD (after 1 of 3 days/1 of 3 rounds/18 of 54 holes)
1. Cal (286, -2)
2. UNLV (287, -1)
3. Texas A&M (288, E)
4. UCLA (291, +3)
T5. Stanford (292, +4)
T5. Texas (292, +4)
T5. Alabama (292, +4)
T8. Florida (293, +5)
T8. Texas Tech (293, +5)
10. TCU (294, +6)
11. Duke (297, +9)
T12. USC (298, +10)
T12. Oklahoma State (298, +10)
14. New Mexico State (306, +18)
15. Arizona State (310, +22)
PLAYER LEADER BOARD - INDIVIDUAL LEADER (after 1 of 3 days/1 of 3 rounds/18 of 54 holes)
1. Logan McCracken (Texas Tech) 66 (-6)
PLAYER LEADER BOARD - CAL INDIVIDUALS (after 1 of 3 days/1 of 3 rounds/18 of 54 holes)
T10. Max Homa 71 (-1)
T10. Joël Stalter 71 (-1)
T19. Brandon Hagy 72 (E)
T19. Keelan Kilpatrick 72 (E)
T29. Michael Kim 74 (+2)