PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. (June 2, 2012) -- Cal’s season finally ended with a 3-2 loss to Alabama in the semifinals of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship at The Riviera Country Club on Saturday. Joël Stalter had a 12-foot birdie putt horseshoe around the 17th hole and lip out that would have both squared his match and evened the team score. Stalter had drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the same hole Friday to clinch Cal’s quarterfinal win over San Diego State.
“I thought it was going in,” Stalter said about his putt on the par-five 17th. “It looked good, but it had a little too much speed. It could have gone in but somehow it lipped out.”
“I was up on 18 with Pace [Johnson] with the binoculars and I could see it do a 360 from there,” head coach Steve Desimone said.
Stalter and Johnson were in the final two matches on the course Saturday and both had one final chance to even their respective matches and the team score on 18 but each missed birdie putts.
Johnson’s tee shot on 18 went way right but he had an opening to the green and hit his approach to 12 feet. His birdie attempt that would have tied his match missed on the high side of the hole, giving his opponent Scott Strohmeyer a 1-up victory.
Stalter and Hunter Hamrick both had birdie putts from the fringe on 18. Hamrick putted first and missed to give Stalter and the Bears one final opportunity to send the match into a playoff, but Stalter’s final effort slid left of the hole and Hamrick was a 1-up winner.
Max Homa and Michael Kim both won their matches 2 & 1 over Justin Thomas and Bobby Wyatt, respectively. Brandon Hagy fell 3 & 1 to Cory Whitsett.
“What an incredible match,” head coach Steve Desimone said. “Win or lose, I’m proud of the way my guys played. They never quit; they never gave an inch. We’re disappointed, but it was fun to watch, I’ll tell you that.”
“These are just two stellar great teams but what do you expect out of the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked teams in the country,” Desimone added. “Neither team gave an inch. It came down to a couple of opportunities, a couple of short putts that we missed. You’ve got to give Alabama credit because we closed in on them, especially over the last four or five holes but they hung tough. We just couldn’t quite catch them, and that’s the way golf goes sometimes.”
The Bears never led in the team score despite the match coming down to the final putt.
In fact, none of the Cal players led in their individual matches until Kim took his first lead on the par-four 10th hole. Homa’s first advantage came on the par-four 12th.
“We were behind all day, but we still had a chance at the end,” Kim said.
Homa lost three of his first six holes and trailed by two through six. Thomas won the par-five first with a birdie before Homa pulled even with a birdie on the par-four second. A birdie by Thomas on the par-four fifth and a bogey by Homa on the par-three sixth gave Thomas a two hole lead that would be his biggest of the day. Homa’s comeback started when he birdied the par-fourth eighth and Thomas bogeyed it. Homa then pulled the match back to all square when Thomas bogeyed the par-[fourth ninth. Homa’s first lead came when Thomas bogeyed the 12th, but he gave it right back when Thomas birdied the par-four 13th and Homa double bogeyed it. Homa would retake the lead for good when Thomas bogeyed the par-three 14th and extend his margin to two holes with another par-three bogey by Thomas on 16. Both players birdied the par-five 17th before Thomas ran out of holes.
Kim bogeyed the second hole to briefly fall behind by a hole before making birdie on the par-four third to bring the match back to all square. It would stay there until Kim’s birdie on the 10th hole gave him a lead he would never relinquish. Kim would add another hole to his margin with his birdie on 12 before the players halved each of the last five holes with a bogey, three pars and a birdie each before it ended on 17.
Hagy, Johnson and Stalter never led.
Hagy spent five of his first 12 holes playing one down but on three separate occasions won holes to bring the match back to all square. Whitsett picked up his first lead when Hagy bogeyed two but Whitsett bogeyed the par-three fourth to make the match even again. Hagy bogeyed five to give Whitsett the lead back but immediately answered with a birdie on six to retie the match. Hagy bogeyed the ninth to put Whitsett back in front but got the hole back again when he birdied the par-five 11th. But Whitsett would win back-to-back holes on Hagy’s bogey on 13 and his own birdie on 14, and then closed the match out with a birdie on 17.
Johnson trailed by as many as three as deep as 11 holes into the match. Strohmeyer won the second and fourth on birdies, the par-four seventh on a Johnson bogey and the 10th on another birdie. The only one of the first 11 holes Johnson won was the fifth when Strohmeyer bogeyed. But Johnson started a comeback when Strohmeyer bogeyed 12 and it picked up full stream when Johnson sunk a 20-foot putt for birdie on 14 to get within a single hole. The pair then traded the next two holes with a Johnson bogey on the par-four 15th and a Strohmeyer bogey on the 16th. Both players made par on the final two holes with Johnson needing a hole to even his match and either force a playoff or give the Bears a win depending upon Stalter’s result.
“This loss is tough to swallow, but that’s just sports and that’s how things are,” Johnson said. “There’s only one winner in the end.”
Stalter dropped four consecutive holes early in the match on the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh to trail by four. Stalter’s bogey on four started the stretch before Hamrick ran off three straight birdies. Hamrick would never win another hole but he wouldn’t have to as Stalter ran out of holes before he could complete his comeback. Stalter won the eighth on a Hamrick bogey, the 12th on his birdie and the 13th on another Hamrick bogey to get within one with five holes to go. But both players made par on each of the last five holes, giving Hamrick a nail-biting win.
Cal officially finishes tied for third, its second-highest NCAA finish ever to the team’s lone national title in 2004.
The 2011-12 season was one of firsts for Cal, including its first trip to match play at the NCAA Championship as well as its first NCAA match play victory. Cal also captured its first NCAA Regional and Pac-12 titles, posted a school-record six wins to double the previous mark, and had top-five finishes in all 14 events for the first time in school history.
“This was really a formative year for us,” Desimone said excitedly about a team that had only one senior and none in its NCAA lineup. “We’re really ahead of schedule here. This was a tremendous experience for us. I feel very confident we’re going to be knocking on the door again the next couple of years. These guys get it; they know what’s at stake. They know how close they are now, and I think this will just be added motivation for the next few years.”
“It was definitely a season of firsts for us,” Hagy said. “We played so well all year. I’m so proud of all the guys. It was just an incredible season. This [loss] doesn’t feel very good, but I guarantee you it’s motivation for the future. I think next year today will be a little bit of a different story. I think we’ll be moving on to the final match.”