Cal golf team jokes its way to the top
25 Mar 2013
by Benjamin Larsen of amateurgolf.com

-- CalBears.com
-- CalBears.com
Brandon Hagy can drive the ball farther than anyone else in the country.

Michael Kim is the picture of consistency, rarely making impact that isn’t flush.

Michael Weaver, Max Homa and Joel Stalter feature complete games with the ability to win nearly any tournament they enter.

In fact, one could go on and on and on about the physical makeup and supreme talent the Cal golf team possesses but head coach Steve Desimone thinks there’s more to the Bears’ terrific success than meets the eye.

“This is my 41st year of coaching and this is as close a group as I’ve coached,” Desimone said. “They all get along great. There are no egos or jealousy. They know being a group only makes us a stronger unit”

And of course, the laughs don’t hurt either...

That’s right. The Cal golf team, the top-ranked Cal golf team and perhaps one of the best collegiate golf teams ever assembled isn’t just bombs off the tee and a slick short game. The Bears like to joke, too.

“Some people say team chemistry isn’t important, but these guys like to have fun,” Desimone said. “We don’t stop laughing for long. Someone is always thinking of something or making a joke.

Indeed, the Bears like their fun.

"Knowing you have a group of friends supporting you is nice," Homa said. "It takes a lot of pressure off because you know everyone is so friendly and helpful.

"We have tons of inside jokes which makes traveling full of laughs. This keeps us focused on the fun and not so much on the pressure."

That humor has undoubtedly been a piece of the puzzle for the red-hot Bears. Winners of eight tournaments already this season, Desimone and Co. are on a potential history-making course as the 2012-2013 golf year comes to a close. Cal heads to the Arizona State Thunderbird and the Western Intercollegiate before postseason play begins with the Pac-12 Championship and the NCAA Regional.

Earlier this season, the Bears were victorious at the Gopher Invitational, Ping/Golfweek Preview, Pac-12 Preview and Alistair MacKenzie Invitational. In October, the winning streak continued at the Isleworth Collegiate.

After the winter break, there was much speculation about the possibilities of Cal finishing the season with a perfect record. The winning streak ended with a third-place finish at the Arizona Intercollegiate but Cal has bounced back with wins at the Burns Intercollegiate, Fresno State Lexus Classic and the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, perhaps a marquee win over 13 fellow Top 15 teams.

And all that, plus what might come, leads to the question: Is this the best college golf team of all time?

“I’ve seen and read things wondering the same thing,” Desimone said. “We could break the record and win the NCAA Championship and maybe lay claim to the ‘greatest of all time’. It’s out there.

“But I remind the guys that the only way this all works is to be the best team at the end of the season.”

The NCAA title, of course, is the ultimate goal for this Cal team. They had a heartbreaking loss in the semifinal round last season, losing 3-2 to Alabama on a day when two matches that went to the TIde went down to the 18th hole. From that day forward, according to Desimone, the focus has been on June 2, 2013 --- the final day of the national championship.

“That’s the goal,” Desimone said. “Make no mistake. There is one goal and we’ve tasted it.”

As the season has progressed, it’s hard not to call Cal and its relentless group of solid players the favorites.

Considered the No. 1 team in the country, the Bears have five players who could win any tournament they enter.

Kim is the top-ranked player in the country, according to Golfweek and has a school record four wins this season. He’s heating up at the right time, too, as all four of his wins this year have come in the Bears’ last five events. He’s also considered the favorite for the Haskins Award, which goes to the top player in college golf.

Stalter is Golfweek’s No. 2 player. He’s also a contender for the Haskins Award and a winner twice this year along with a pair of Top 10 finishes.

Weaver is 21st in Golfweek’s collegiate rankings. He’ll play in the Masters in April thanks to his runner-up finish at the U.S. Amateur last summer.

Hagy, of course, reached the semifinals at the U.S. Amateur. Hes currently 32nd in the Golfweek NCAA rankings. After a major improvement following his freshman season, Hagy jumped nearly 200 spots in the rankings last year, ending the year as the No. 1 golfer for the Bears at the National Championship.

And then there’s Homa, ranked No. 33 in the Golfweek rankings. The only senior on the squad, Homa is a complete player. He strikes the ball well, has terrific iron play and is consistent in the short game. He has been a mainstay for the Bears and a key cog in a team that, when looking at the last two seasons, has an eye-popping 14 victories.Overall, the improvement and overall dominance has been due to hard work and a dedication to the short game.

“Three years ago when Max, Brandon and Michael (Weaver) all came in the same recruiting class, it was clear that if they did what they had to do, we were going to have a wonderful run,” said Desimone.

And all three players focused their improvements on the short game. That specialized training has filtered to the other players and Cal is now known as one of the country’s strongest teams within 100 yards.

“Every player has improved dramatically,” Desimone said. “We wouldn’t be where we are now without the focus on short game improvement.”

Homa agrees: “I think a team with a strong overall short game will go a long way. Having a solid short game will get you through the struggle holes. In other sports, they say defense wins championship. In golf, you could say short game wins championships.”

And a championship is what they seek. The Cal Bears get back to action April 5-6 at the ASU Thunderbird. And from there, the GPS in the team’s van will be set towards Atlanta, Georgia and the Capital City Club, site of the NCAA Championship.

And, knowing this team, they better have that GPS operating. Or else, they’re bound to miss a turn from all the fun they’re having.

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