2012-13 Steve Desimone Q&A
What are your goals for the 2012-13 season?
"We want to get back to the NCAA Championship and give ourselves a shot at the national title. There are very high expectations here. We kind of sneaked up on everybody last year, but we're not going to sneak up on anybody this year. Anything short of playing for the national title would not necessarily be underachieving, but it would be a disappointment. But golf is an interesting and difficult game. You just don't know. Do you get the right bounce or the wrong bounce? Do you make a close putt or miss it? Still, I am confident that if we stay healthy we will have a great shot at returning to the NCAA Championship and that's really the first goal. Once we get there, we have to play well to put ourselves in a position to win. I think the chances are good that we will do that, but a lot of good things have to happen between now and the end of the season."
Can you talk about the courses that the Pac-12 Championship and NCAA Championship will be played on this year?
"Let's start with the North Course at The Los Angeles Country Club that the Pac-12 Championship will be played on because I am very familiar with it. I've played it many times and it is one of the best golf courses not only in the country but in the world, especially after it was remodeled in the mid-2000's. It will be one of the best tests ever for the Pac-12 Championship and a great experience for all of the teams. It's a wonderful statement about the conference that a course like this is willing to host our championship. As for the Crabapple Course at the Capital City Club in Atlanta where the NCAA Championship will be played, the only experience I have with the course is playing the PING/Golfweek Preview there last fall. The course sets up well for us. We played some good golf there at the PING/Golfweek Preview and will have a good game plan for the NCAA Championship. Of course, we have to get Atlanta first."
What do you think the carryover from last season will be for this year's team?
"If you go back to the 2004 NCAA Championship, the seeds of winning that title were really set at the 2002 NCAA Regional when we missed making the NCAA's by a single shot. There was a feeling that we were not going to let that happen again and we were going to commit ourselves to winning the championship. We knew we were going to redshirt a couple of players in 2002-03 and would have a tough time getting there, but during the 2003-04 season the feeling from the 2002 and 2003 NCAA Regionals was something that still carried over to our team. That really was our rallying cry for those two years. Fast forward to now and I can tell you that as soon as we lost to Alabama in the NCAA semifinals last year, I told the guys on our team that I wanted them to remember how they felt that day because this cannot and will not happen again. I told them I wanted them to remember the feeling when we got to Atlanta the next year, and that we are not going to go through this a second time, and they got it. We've been talking about it ever since. Being as close as we were to a second national championship trophy and how difficult it was to lose last year has been tremendous motivation for the guys."
Can you discuss the academic prowess players in the Cal men's golf program have shown?
"We've had a tremendous amount of academic success because most of our players have truly accepted the challenge of both school and golf. We've sold the program based on those two challenges, and having a great experience at Cal, too. We've had so many of our guys do extremely well. In 2009 and 2010, we were the top academic team among all 29 programs at Cal, and we're still right near the top. Most importantly we have three student-athletes in the Haas School of Business when no other program in the history of Cal Athletics has ever had more than two at the same time. There has been a tremendous amount of academic achievement for the young men in our program and I certainly see that continuing. We are recruiting for that."
What is your biggest concern about the 2012-13 season?
"It's the same thing I said a year ago, and that's staying healthy. When Ben An got sick at the NCAA's in 2011 any chance we had of winning disappeared. We also had a little bit of a lull last March when Michael Kim was hurt and sick and missed the Del Walker Match Play Championship, Joël Stalter was sick at the Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship, and I was even sick and missed the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters. We still competed at a very high level during those tournaments, but we could have won all three of them had we been healthy. You're going to run into these types of issues. Fortunately this team has tremendous depth and that should help as the season evolves. We have at least seven or maybe eight players that can legitimately compete for a spot in our top five. I've had guys joke with me that qualifying is going to be impossible. [Associate head coach] Walter [Chun] and I hear that and we smile and say `that sounds great to us.' In order to stay in the lineup, our guys are going to have to be really sharp and play really well."
Can you talk about the program's philosophy in terms of recruiting and player development?
"We've had a lot of success both in recruiting and developing players. In all honesty, we haven't had a lot of guys ranked highly as junior golfers, but what it takes to succeed at Cal isn't just hitting the golf ball and making a putt. Still, when you have success you have more and more good players interested in what you're doing and how you're doing it, and that's what's going on. We're in a position where we are solid enough financially to compete for the best players, and mid-level junior players who wouldn't have looked at us in the past are doing so very seriously now. We feel like once we get a player here who has some ability and the willingness to learn we can help to develop them into a top-notch player."
Can you describe your coaching style and has it changed over the years?
"I don't know that anything has changed much. Certainly I think all coaches, especially veteran coaches, go through a period at the end of each season and again before the upcoming season where we self-evaluate. We sit back and ask ... What went right? What went wrong? What can we do better? Once you kind of solidify that then you do the same thing a couple of weeks before the next season starts and ask yourself if you are you still comfortable with the conclusions and the things you want to do in the upcoming season. When you have a program that works as well as this program has over the years, the old saying `if it ain't broke, don't fix it' is usually a pretty good one. For the most part we will continue to do what we're doing, maybe tweak a little bit but other than that we're going to stay the course."
How ready are you and the team for the 2013 spring season?
"These guys are up for this. They are so ready for the next four months. You just sense that they know what's there and they want to get after it."
Can you talk about the annual Cal Golf Tournament and its role in your fund-raising efforts?
"Our annual Cal Golf Tournament is set for Sept. 16, 2013, again at Orinda Country Club. It is the most important non-competitive day of the year for our program. We raise roughly a third of the funds necessary to operate the team during the year from that one event. It is a critical day for us, and we can't function without it. It's a fun day. We call it a tournament, but it is really a party and a celebration from start to finish. When you have as many returnees to the tournament as we do, you know people are having a lot of fun and believe in what we're doing. They believe in the product we have, which in the end is the young men in this program and how they're playing, how they're achieving academically and how they're functioning as people in society. It's gratifying for us that we get that kind of support because we wouldn't if the program were in a different mode or headed in a different direction."
How important is the Cal Golf Committee?
"There should be no doubt that without the committee and guys like Ed Arnold, Russ Bigelow, Frank Brunk, Joffa Dale, Ken Lloyd, Bob Scuitto, and so many other friends of Cal golf, there would not be a Cal men's golf program. This was all the Cal Golf Committee. Yes, I've been the coach for 33 ½ years and from a programmatic standpoint I can say with a smile that things have gone well. But without the support of the Cal Golf Committee and its energy, none of this would have happened, and what a loss that would have been. No Charlie Wi, no Peter Tomasulo, no Ben Furth, no Walter Chun, no Max Homa, no national championship, no All-Americans, no All-America Scholars, the 2012-13 team would not exist, and on and on. To think that none of this would have existed at Cal is an awful, tragic thought. No one knows with certainty if we'll ever win another national championship, but I do know we're going to be competing for more and I do know that our student-athletes are getting a great education. They're playing really good golf and they're growing as people. All of that runs directly back to the Cal Golf Committee. It's one of the truly great success stories in the history of Cal Athletics."
Can you talk about the importance of the team's facilities?
"It's very important and gratifying that the local clubs both public and private have opened their doors to us for so many years. You simply can't run a competitive national golf program without great support from the local clubs. We must have great golf courses on which to play and qualify on. Without the ability to identify our best players on a regular basis on championship golf courses, we just wouldn't have the program we have now. Lastly, we also have a tremendous short-game practice facility now that has made a huge difference in our program. Our facilities are the lifeblood of our program."
Do you have any concerns about peaking too early?
"I don't worry about peaking at all. If you look at our progression over the last year and a half, we have been very steady. We really have not seen any highs and lows out of this group. Part of that reason is we have five great players in the lineup at each tournament, so the odds that two or three of those players are going to go sideways at any time are really low. Most teams have one or two guys that could be their top player each week, but you can make the case that we have five guys who could be No. 1. That's why we've seen the steady, great play over the last year and a half."
What does it mean to play golf at Cal?
"It means you've made a commitment to the University of California and our golf program to be the best student-athlete and the best person you can be. All of those things work together. There's a great deal of pride our players have in the program. They also understand that they're part of a legacy, something that will be a part of this program forever. When your players are thinking like that, then you know they've had a great experience. As a coaching staff, those are some of the hopes and goals we have for our players."
How much of golf is physical and how much mental?
"The golf swing is probably 10-20 percent of the game. I'm a firm believer that when you get to the back nine of the U.S. Open you have to be the toughest guy on the block. You've got to know in your heart that you're the best player and you can do it. It's difficult to do at every level, there's a lot going on out there in the mind. When you've got 10-12 minutes to think about every shot that mind is racing. You must be able to train it. Part of that is going through the learning process, the competitive process, being in the heat of battle. You have to learn how to pace yourself and how to keep your emotions under control. You can see that just about every great player that has ever played the game has worked their way through each of these steps all the way to the top."
Can you talk about the individual honors you've won recently?
"The coaches voted me as the Pac-12 Coach of the Year for 2011-12 and that was very special because my peers thought I did the best job and should be rewarded. As far as being named the NCAA Regional Coach of the Year also last season that's just another one of those wonderful honors that I'll be able to look back on and say that was one heck of a team and I was recognized for the year we had. I also received the prestigious Jack Lemmon Ambassador of Golf Award for 2012. I'm not speechless very often, but I am very humbled to have been selected for this wonderful award. All you have to do is look at the recipients that have preceded me to know how special this is. But, I never really think about these things much because it's about the players earning their all-conference and all-academic recognition. Those things are much more important to me because they're the ones that do it. We kind of drive the bus, but they're the guys that get it done and they've sure done a lot of it lately."