The first time Cal head coach Steve Desimone saw Brandon Hagy, Max Homa and Michael Weaver together on the driving range five years ago he told associate head coach Walter Chun “these guys are going to take us back to the NCAA Championship many times.”
Desimone’s prophecy came true each of the last five years, something that had never been done before in the history of the program.
“They fulfilled every one of those expectations and exceeded some,” Desimone said.
So it hit hard Monday when the glorious run finally came to an end with the final four seniors from the era – Hagy, Weaver, Joël Stalter and Pace Johnson – in the lineup at the NCAA Championship but falling just shy of a third straight trip to match play.
“It had the potential for a better ending,” Desimone said while fighting back tears in a post-round interview. “Disappointed would be an understatement. I think devastated would be more like it. I hurt when they hurt, just like a parent.”
Even though there was a lot of hurt when the era finally came to a close Monday a look back at the past five seasons should make the pain subside quickly.
“It’s been an amazing run, clearly one of the best in the history of college golf and I’m so proud of them,” Desimone said. “Look at the overall picture of what these guys have accomplished. They made five straight NCAA Championships, were the best team in the history of college golf last year, and a team that a lot of people thought would fall off the map this season once Michael Kim turned professional in December, yet they played great and won three times in the spring then came so close to getting back into match play.”
Just a few of the top highlights during the five-year run included two appearances in the national semifinals in their five trips to the NCAA Championship, victories in 30 of 68 stroke-play events, a single-season NCAA record 12 stroke-play victories in 2012-13, and both the first two NCAA Regional and Pac-12 titles in school history.
Hagy, Homa, Kim, Stalter and Weaver were all first-team All-Americans at least once in their careers with all five being recognized as either first or second-teamers in 2012-13 to make Cal the first team in the history of college golf to have five first or second-team All-Americans in the same season.
There were plenty of other firsts during the era including Kim’s selection as both the unanimous National and Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2012-13 and Homa’s NCAA individual title the same campaign. Hagy, Homa and Weaver also became the first three players in the history of the program to play in the NCAA Championship four times each.
There was also a ton of success off the course, most recently with the graduation of all four of this year’s seniors including Hagy, Stalter and Weaver from the prestigious Haas School of Business. Last year, Hagy was an Academic All-American and all three were All-America Scholars with this year’s awards still to be announced in June. Hagy was also selected in his senior season as the winner of the prestigious Byron Nelson Award that considers equally a nominee’s entire collegiate academic and golf career, his character and integrity in college, and his community service.
“It’s been amazing,” Hagy said. “We’ve won God knows how many tournaments. It’s been an incredible ride seeing the rise of the program since I’ve been here. I’ve made great friends and had a lot of pretty incredible highs.”
The firsts also extended into the highest levels of amateur golf and even professional events.
Homa, Kim and Weaver became what is believed to be the first three players from a collegiate team to play in the same U.S. Open in 2013. Kim was the low amateur at the event, finishing in a tie for 17th after being as high as tied for third on the leaderboard late into the third round.
Weaver became the first current Cal golfer to ever play in the Masters in 2013 after picking up an exemption from his runner-up showing at the 2012 U.S. Amateur. The same year he would become only the second golfer in the history of the sport to play in the Masters, Palmer Cup, U.S. Open and Walker Cup in the same calendar year.
Kim joined Weaver and helped lead the United States to victory at both the Palmer Cup and Walker Cup, while Homa joined Kim and Weaver for an American win in the Walker Cup. Stalter played against Kim and Weaver in the Palmer Cup as a member of Team Europe.
Stalter had quite the collegiate career of his own, winning a school-record five times capped by a senior season in which he picked up three of those victories, earned first-team All-American honors for the first time in his career and had his top finishes at both the Pac-12 and NCAA Championship.
“Before I came to Cal I dreamed to play on a top 10 team,” Stalter continued. “Two years after I arrived we ended up being one of the best that has ever played. I don’t know how it gets better. On and off the course it was just an unbelievable experience.”
The accomplishments weren’t limited to the players.
Desimone was the unanimous National Coach of the Year in 2012-13 when the Bears had such a dominant campaign that they were ranked No. 1 in every national poll following the season despite being upset by Illinois in the semifinals of the NCAA Championship. Desimone also captured Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors both that season and the previous campaign in 2011-12. In addition, Desimone has been inducted into the Hall of Fame of both the Golf Coaches Association of America and the Northern California Golf Association during the last five years.
“Without a doubt we’ve had an incredible five years with some of the best student-athletes in the history of both Cal Athletics and college golf,” Desimone said. “Those involved in our sport will be talking about what these young men have accomplished for years and years. Speaking for Walter and myself it has been our honor to have coached these outstanding young men and we thank them for what they’ve achieved and the legacy they have left.”
But as memorable as the past five years have been for Cal golf the future promises great memories still to be created both for the players that have been part of the golden era and those who will look to continue that legacy.
“All of us worked hard and steadily improved over the years and I hope that’s something the younger guys on the team have taken note of,” Weaver said. “It’s not so much because we’re recognized for what we accomplished but so they know that it’s out there for them. I want our group of players to leave a legacy at Cal. We had an incredible run and now it’s going to be up to guys like Keelan Kilpatrick, Shotaro Ban, James Yoon and Walker Huddy, or any of those incoming freshmen or younger guys. I’m sure they will be compared to what we’ve done, which may or may not be fair to them, but we’ve set the bar high hoping they can follow in our footsteps.”
“It was an honor to have been a part of this team for four years,” Homa added. “I hope we played a part in changing the future of the program for the better.”
Johnson was happy to have contributed to the program’s building process after transferring from Cal Poly three years ago.
“I have so many incredible memories that I will hold tight for the rest of my life,” Johnson said. “Getting an education from one of it not the best public institution in the world as well as being a part of a golf program that has built an incredible reputation for success is so much more than I could have asked for.”
The memories have been made at Cal and will be long lasting but now it’s time for the former Bears from the golden era to move on to the next chapter that begins with all of this year’s seniors other than Johnson among nine former or future Bears playing in U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying on June 2.
Hagy and Stalter will play locally as amateurs at Lake Merced Golf Club/Olympic Club (Ocean Course), with Hagy’s final event as an amateur coming June 26-28 at the Palmer Cup in England, where Desimone will serve as the head coach for Team USA. After playing in Sectional Qualifying as an amateur, Stalter plans to start his professional career with a few pro events in his native France this summer before returning to the United States to continue his career. The duo will be joined by 2010 All-American and Pac-10 champion Eric Mina, currently playing professionally on the OneAsia Tour, and incoming freshman Ben Doyle. Weaver will become a professional before U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying and play alongside Kim and former Golden Bears James Hahn and Peter Tomasulo at the Brookside Golf & Country Club/Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. Charlie Wi, who was Cal’s first Pac-10 Player of the Year in 1995 and currently the Bears’ longest-running PGA TOUR professional, will be at Colonial Country Club in Memphis, Tenn.Even though it did indeed have the potential for a better ending Desimone expressed it best when he told a disappointed group of Bears in a team meeting after the final round that “it was a phenomenal run and you all have the grandest of futures ahead of you.”