June 1, 2012
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. - Cal has advanced to the semifinals of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship after a dramatic 3-2 victory over San Diego State on Friday at The Riviera Country Club. Joël Stalter drained a 20-foot downhill birdie putt on the 17th green to win his match 2 & 1 against Alex Kang and secure the team victory with the match tied 2-2 at that point.
"I hadn't made a putt all day," Stalter said. "I told [associate head coach] Walter [Chun] I'm going to make that one and it just went right in the middle of the cup. Stalter was mobbed by teammates, former teammates and fans during an ensuing celebration on the 17th green.
"It's kind of a blank," Stalter said about what he remembered after the putt. "I don't know what happened, but it was just great. It was so special, especially here in the NCAA Championship to go to the national semifinals."
"He loves the mano-a-mano," head coach Steve Desimone said about the French native Stalter. "He said last night that he really liked that last spot [in the lineup] ... I felt with Joël in the backseat that if it came down to the last match that we would have a real chance ... He's a tough kid, he likes the one-on-one stuff. It sure worked today."
Stalter trailed by a pair of holes early in his match after he made bogey on the par-three fourth and sixth holes. But he quickly got the match back to all square when Kang made bogey on the par-four eighth and ninth holes. Stalter then took his first lead of the day when Kang double bogeyed the par-five 11th. Kang would tie the match again with a birdie on the par-three 14th but his bogey on the par-three 16th set up Stalter's match-winning birdie putt on 17.
In addition to Stalter's victory from the No. 5 spot in the lineup, the Golden Bears also picked up wins from their No. 3 and No. 4 players Pace Johnson and Michael Kim. Johnson posted a 4 & 3 triumph over Matt Hoffenberg, while Kim defeated Tom Berry, 3 & 1.
Johnson led his match from wire-to-wire after jumping out to a two-hole lead after his birdie on the par-five first and Hoffenberg's double bogey on the par-four second. Hoffenberg would win his only hole of the match and cut Johnson's advantage to a single hole when Johnson bogeyed the par-four seventh. But Johnson quickly regained control and increased his margin to three holes after Hoffenberg bogeyed both the eighth and the ninth. Johnson added another hole when he birdied the 11th and Hoffenberg made par then closed out the victory by matching Hoffenberg for the next four holes.
Kim had to rally for his victory after dropping the first two holes when Berry eagled the first hole and Kim bogeyed the second. Kim got the match back to all square when Berry bogeyed four and double bogeyed five, and then went ahead for the first time when he birdied seven and came up with another birdie on eight to take a two-hole lead. Berry got one hole back when he birdied nine but Kim took control of the match when he made back-to-back birdies on 10 and 11 to increase his advantage to three. Berry got one hole back when Kim bogeyed 13 but the two would split the next four holes before Kim clinched it with his birdie on 17.
"I knew I had to win my match for us to have any chance," Kim said. "To do it here in the NCAA's at Riviera is pretty special."
Homa led by two after winning three of the first seven holes as Spaun double bogeyed two and bogeyed five, while Homa birdied seven. Spaun was able to take the third hole on a Homa bogey to prevent Homa from taking any bigger of lead and then began his comeback with a birdie on eight. After the players halved the ninth hole, Spaun would win three straight holes with an eagle on 10, a birdie on 11 and a Homa bogey on 12 to go from one down to two up. He clinched the match after a Homa bogey on 14 and his birdie on 15.
Hagy also took an early one-hole lead with a birdie on one and a Featherstone bogey on three sandwiched around a Hagy double on two. He would keep the slim advantage until Featherstone tied the match with a birdie on six. Featherstone grabbed his first lead when Hagy bogeyed nine and would never trail again. The players split their first four holes on the back nine before Hagy's bogey on 14 gave Featherstone a two-hole advantage. Hagy would get one hole back when Featherstone bogeyed 15 but the Aztec golfer would close out the match with his birdie on 17.
"Max [Homa] and I lost our matches but the benefit of having a deep team is that we knew they could help us out," Hagy said. "Michael [Kim] and Pace [Johnson] played great, and Joël [Stalter] had a real tough with Alex [Kang], but he pulled it out just like we knew he would."
"What's been impressive about this team is that as time goes on we seem to play better, and that's no question what we're doing right now," Desimone said. "Sometimes you ride that wave and just go, and that's my sense of what's going on with these guys."
No. 4 Cal will face top-seed Alabama in the first of two semifinal matches on Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. PT. Alabama was a 3.5-1.5 winner over No. 8 Kent State on Friday.
"We're expecting to go out and win," Johnson said. "Alabama is a tough competitor and the No. 1 seed but tomorrow should be a good day. This is as big as at gets. There's no bigger state than this - the NCAA's at Riviera."
The other semifinal between No. 3 Texas and No. 7 Oregon will start at 10:45 a.m. Texas defeated No. 6 Washington, 5-0, while No. 7 Oregon was a 3-2 upset winner over No. 2 UCLA on Thursday.
The winners of Saturday's two semifinals will meet in the national championship match Sunday at 10 a.m.
Cal won its lone national title in 2004 when the event used a 72-hole stroke play format. The Bears are making their eighth appearance in the NCAA Championship in school history and their first in match play that was reintroduced in 2009 to determine the champion."
"It's been a heck of a run," Desimone said. "There are only four teams left and we're one of them. It makes you feel pretty good, especially with these guys. This is a special group of guys."
NCAA Championship (hosted by USC)
Pacific Palisades, Calif. - The Riviera Country Club (par-71, 7,292 yards)
NCAA MATCH PLAY QUARTERFINAL
Cal d. San Diego State, 3-2
1. J.J. Spaun (San Diego State) d. Max Homa (Cal), 4 & 3
2. Colin Featherstone (San Diego State) d. Brandon Hagy (Cal), 2 & 1
3. Pace Johnson (Cal) d. Matt Hoffenberg (San Diego State), 4 & 3
4. Michael Kim (Cal) d. Tom Berry (San Diego State), 3 & 1
5. Joël Stalter (Cal) d. Alex Kang (San Diego State), 2 & 1
A full recap will follow.