Aug. 28, 2009
BERKELEY - QUICK START FOR CALIFORNIA: With the first event of the 2009-10 season coming on the first weekend after fall classes are underway, three first-year players are getting the call to represent their University as the California Golden Bears enter a tournament without traditional qualfying rounds for only the second time in the 31-year career of Head Coach Steve Desimone. Like most if not all of their competition in this weekend's Golfweek's Collegiate Conference Challenge, the Bears were not permitted to conduct team practices until classes began; therefore, the lineup for the start of Sunday's action was determined by previous events and junior/amateur play over the past six months.
THE EVENT: Golfweek magazine sponsors and the University of Iowa hosts the fall kickoff of the 2009-10 collegiate golf season with the first-ever Golfweek's Collegiate Conference Challenge Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at Blue Top Ridge in Riverside, Iowa. The men's portion of the event includes 15 Division I teams from different conferences across the nation, with a separate event for 18 women's teams Sept. 13-15 at Primm Valley Golf Club's Desert Course in Primm, Nev. The men at Blue Top Ridge will compete in a 54-hole, stroke-play format with one round each on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Blue Top Ridge is a resort course, designed by Rees Jones and over 7,500 yards in length, with generous fairways and large greens. "I suspect that it will be very competitive with a lot of low scores," Coach Desimone said. Live scoring will be available at Golfstat.com.
DES SAYS: "On paper, this looks like the best team we've had since the 2004 National Championship," says Coach Desimone. "As successful as last year's team was, we didn't make the NCAA Championships. This team looks much stronger. At the beginning of the season there's always regeneration and optimism. Still, the unknowns are a little unsettling. We have two freshmen in the lineup, a transfer and two solid veterans. In terms of overall college experience, it's one of the least-experienced lineups we've ever had. What you'd like to see is that transition from amateur/junior golf very quickly to college golf. Obviously we're hoping that's going to happen over the next few days."
BEAR LINEUP: Cal's lineup (in order, with 2008-09 Cal statistics)
Player YR RDS STROKES AVG LOW TOP FINISH Eric Mina Jr. 37 2708 73.1 67 T3 Michael Weaver Fr. NA NA NA NA NA Chad Vivolo Jr. NA NA NA NA NA Max Homa Fr. NA NA NA NA NA Stephen Hale Jr. 40 2953 73.8 68 T15
LINEUP LOOK: A mix of veterans and rookies comprises the first lineup of the year for the Bears. Bookended by two of Cal's best players over the last two years, Eric Mina and Stephen Hale, the three newcomers arrive with bona fide credentials despite their inexperience in blue and gold. Michael Weaver mans the No. 2 slot coming off his recent success as winner of the NCGA Junior Championship, while Chad Vivolo steps into the tee box for Cal following his transfer from Pepperdine, where he averaged 74.5 strokes in 26 rounds and nine tournaments last year as a redshirt freshman, with his 6-under 65 at the Arizona Intercollegiate, where he finished 4th, the best round on his team all season, earning him the honor of Golf World's National Player of the Week. Max Homa also performed well, tying for 40th at the Long Beach Open, where he competed against 300 professionals. "There were openings and these young men filled them very nicely," said Desimone of the new players in the lineup. Of the necessity to choose a lineup without qualifying rounds, Desimone said, "We don't claim that it's fair but we do believe that it's reasonable." On slotting three newcomers into the first lineup of the year, Desimone said: "It's very unusual for us - the last time was two years ago, when we had Stephen Hale and Eric Mina in the lineup, and that was a significant change for us. It's also an indication that we lost some good players from last year in Michael Jensen, George Gandranata, Kent Yamane and Erick Thorson."
A LOOK AT THE FIELD: The 15 men's teams competing in this year's Golfweek's Collegiate Conference Challenge are Florida State (ACC), Xavier (Atlantic 10), Baylor (Big 12), South Florida (Big East), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Iowa (Big 10), Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial), Memphis (Conference USA), Illinois State (Missouri Valley), California (Pac 10), Vanderbilt (SEC), Georgia Southern (Southern), Texas-Arlington (Southland), Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt) and New Mexico State (Western Athletic).
HIGH HOPES FOR 2009-10: "It's been one of the best summers ever," said Desimone regarding his optimism for the 2009-10 campaign. "The recruits now on campus - all of them had sensational summers. We've had a lot of success with our recruits over the years, but not at this level. We're talking about special players and special performances."
GANDRANATA BACK AS VOLUNTEER UNDERGRADUATE ASSISTANT: George Gandranata, who won the NCGA Amateur Championship at Spyglass Hill earlier this month, is a member of the staff this year as a volunteer undergraduate assistant. "It's wonderful to have George around here for another year," Desimone said. "These kids are going to learn a lot from him about work ethic and what it is to compete."
LAST YEAR: Then-sophomore Eric Mina and then-junior John Murphy matched each other stroke for stroke with 3-over rounds of 74, but California could not sustain its campaign to lock up a top-5 finish at the NCAA Southwest Regional, ending the Golden Bears' 2008-09 season with a 9th-place finish at The University of Texas Golf Club. Murphy also became the fifth Bear in program history to finish in the top 5 at the Pac-10 Championship, where Cal placed 7th at Seattle Golf Club. A rollercoaster spring was preceded by an outstanding autumn, with the Bears winning their opening event at the San Francisco Intercollegiate, with co-captain Michael Jensen in a tie for top individual finish; taking 3rd at the Wolverine Intercollegiate on the strength of a 2nd-place performance from Murphy; and coming in 2nd at the Husky Invitational thanks to a trifecta of 7th-place finishes by Murphy, Jensen and Mina. Following the end of the year, accolades received by the Bears included All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention for Gandranata, Murphy and Michael Jensen. The program received the Big C Most Improved Team Award, in honor of making the greatest improvement in the last year among Cal's 27 sports relative to its historical grade-point average. Murphy and Gandranata received Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar honors from the Golf Coaches Association of America. Gandranata also received a Pac-10 Postgraduate Scholarship to assist his future plans to pursue an MBA and eventually a Ph.D. in either economics or business administration. Stephen Hale also earned Pac-10 All-Academic Honorable Mention honors. Assistant coach Walter Chun served in the same capacity for Team USA in the prestigious Palmer Cup in June 4-5 at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colo., where the top-eight American collegiate golfers competed against their European collegiate counterparts.