WINDERMERE, Fla. – Michael Kim knew where he stood when he entered that bunker right of the fairway on Isleworth Golf & Country Club’s 18th hole. He held a one-shot lead in the individual standings, while his Cal team was two strokes ahead in its quest for a fifth consecutive victory.
Par was necessary to take all the trophies back to the San Francisco Bay Area. But Kim was some 225 yards from the hole, holding a 3-wood in hand. A 25-yard-wide sliver of fairway would guide Kim’s ball toward the hole if he executed his shot, but a wide bunker and deep swales were waiting to swallow a mis-hit.
Kim’s shot started about 15 yards left of the green before cutting toward the hole, landing just short of the green and rolling 20 feet from his target. An easy two-putt gave Kim his first individual title and allowed the Bears to win the team title at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational.
The Bears, No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, were undefeated this fall, traversing the country to take home five titles in five states. They started with a 14-shot win at the Gopher Invitational in Minnesota before tying for first at the Ping-Golfweek Preview outside Atlanta. Next was a seven-shot victory at the Pac-12 Preview in Oregon, followed by a 20-shot romp at the Bears’ home event, the Alister Mackenzie Invitational. The Isleworth Collegiate Invitational was Cal’s final start of the fall.
The Bears trailed New Mexico by five strokes during the final round before squeezing out this latest victory. Cal finished at 4-over 868 (284-295-289), two shots ahead of New Mexico. The Bears were 68 under in their five fall victories, winning by a combined 43 strokes. “I don’t get too excited about stuff very often,” said Michael Weaver, the U.S. Amateur runner-up, “but this is pretty sick.”
Kim’s final-hole par gave him a 54-hole total of 4-under 212 (67-72-73), one shot better than New Mexico’s James Erkenbeck (72-70-71) and Alabama’s Justin Thomas (73-70-70), last year’s collegiate player of the year. This was the first collegiate title for Kim, a sophomore from Del Mar, Calif. He’d finished in the top-10 in the first four events this spring, and was ranked No. 5 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
“I’ve been looking for that first win, and to do it at a place like this is pretty cool,” Kim said. “It’s a really stressful place to play, seeing as every shot gets your attention.”
Kim isn’t known as a long hitter – his tee shots travel about 280 yards – but used precision to go wire-to-wire on an Isleworth course that is listed at 7,544 yards. “It really shows you there’s more than one way to get it done,” Weaver said. “He does it very well.”
Kim was one of three Bears to finish in the top 10. Weaver finished fourth at 1-under 215 (68-76-71), while Brandon Hagy tied for ninth after shooting three consecutive 73s.
The Isleworth win also was Cal’s seventh victory in its past eight starts, dating to last season. Cal won the Pac-12 Championship and Stanford Regional before losing in the semifinals of the NCAA Championship.
The Bears have positioned themselves as the early national-championship favorites. There’s still plenty of time between now and the NCAA Championship. What does Cal do until then?
“We want to improve every day,” said head coach Steve Desimone, “and if we do that, then we’ve got a real shot at a second NCAA Championship. We’ve played all the best teams in the country, and we’ve beaten them all at least once.”
In fact, the Bears have beaten everyone they’ve played.