GRIN AND BEAR IT: Cal’s men’s team should be smiling after receiving a second-place preseason ranking behind Alabama. The Golden Bears return five starters from last year’s team, not including U.S. Amateur runner-up Michael Weaver, who redshirted last season. Led by senior Max Homa, the Bears look to improve on their semifinal loss to Alabama in last year’s NCAA Championship. Cal already has a victory this season at the Gopher Invitational in Minnesota. A warm-up tournament before the Ping/Golfweek Preview, the Bears won by 14 shots and had four players in the Top 10. Coach Steve Desimone will be looking to win his second NCAA championship (2004) entering his 34th year as head of the program.
BIG PLANS: The UCLA men’s squad had to replace Ben Hogan Award winner Patrick Cantlay, who turned professional after his sophomore season, but the Bruins are still ranked fifth in the preseason poll. UCLA returns All-Americans Pedro Figueiredo and Anton Arboleda as well as redshirt sophomore Manav Shah, who sat out last season after transferring from San Diego. So why field a team of 13 that resembles the practice squad of the football team? While the Bruins did well last year, Coach Derek Freeman needs to see as many players as possible for the future of the team’s success. Planning to play regular events as well as send individual players to lower tier tournaments, Freeman should have a good idea who will continue as a Bruin when the NCAA Championships come around. “We are very excited that our team has world-class internal competition. It will prepare them for professional golf,” Freeman said. “Every week you must play against the best 156 players on the PGA Tour. We are allowing our players to have that same type of competition on a collegiate level.”
AZTEC WOMEN HAVE SHOT: The San Diego State men’s team made an impressive run last season with a quarterfinal match-play appearance in the NCAA Championship. However, after losing seniors J.J. Spaun, Alex Kang, Colin Featherstone and Matt Hoffenberg, it’s going to be a tough repeat for the Aztecs, so it sounds like a good time for the women’s team to step up. The women have a solid group headlined by seniors Gina Clark and Mountain West Player of the Year Christine Wong. The duo led San Diego State at the NCAA East Regional along with sophomore Amy Alston. Added to the mix will be junior transfer Maureen Dunnagan, who should contribute immediately. Coach Leslie Spalding, entering her second year as coach, she has an opportunity to make an early statement.
BACK FOR MORE: Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Patrick Rodgers of Stanford and Erynne Lee of UCLA are hoping to avoid what is commonly known as the sophomore slump. Productive summers from both players make that malady unlikely, however. Rodgers advanced to the round of 32 at the U.S. Amateur, and Lee advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Other top performing Pac-12 freshmen from last year include Washington’s Cheng Tsung Pan and USC’s Doris Chen. WCC Freshman of the Year Grant Forest of San Diego also had a good summer by winning the Scottish Amateur Championship and earning a berth into the Johnnie Walker European professional event.
LOADED LINEUPS: UC Davis won the men’s and women’s Big West Conference titles last year and returns everyone for 2012-13. The men will rely on junior Matt Hansen, who had a stellar summer with a quarterfinal appearance at the California State Amateur and a fourth consecutive appearance at the U.S. Amateur. The women return a squad full of experience and young talent, with sophomore Beverly Vatananugulkit, the medalist at last year’s Big West Championship, leading the way. Juniors Demi Runas and Amy Simanton should provide the stability for a possible berth in the NCAA Championship. The women also should also get a spark from first-year coach Anna Temple, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach at Cal.
BIG WEST EXPANDS: The University of Hawaii is the 10th and newest member of the Big West Conference. The Warriors spent the previous 33 years in the Western Athletic Conference, and the success of the men’s and women’s golf teams should elevate the stature of the Big West. “There’s not a conference that’s more suitable for the University of Hawaii to be part of than the Big West Conference,” Commissioner Dennis Farrell said. “With all of our institutions in the state of California, there’s just a little body of water between those institutions and the University of Hawaii.” The men’s program is headed by Ronn Miyashiro and the women’s squad is guided by Lori Castillo. Castillo’s father, Ron, coached the women’s team from 1976-81.
– BY JIM DOVER