The top-ranked California men’s golf team got off to a hot start Wednesday at the NCAA Championship – only to a come to a quick and sudden halt.
“It looked like we were in really good shape, and it was party time. Now it’s a root canal,” head coach Steve Desimone said after the second round at Capital City Club’s Crabapple course.
At one point, Cal’s only senior, Max Homa, had taken his round to 8 under through 15 holes; as a team, they were 17 under on the day and 20 under for the tournament.
“(Max is) like all great players, when they get one or two they want three or four and then five or six, and once they get five and six they want seven or eight (birdies), and Max certainly was looking at 59, 60, 61,” added Desimone. “That’s what great players think. They want to take it as deep as they can.”
Then the team hit Nos. 16-18, and all five Bears’ rounds started to creep back toward the field.
“Some of those holes are pretty tough,” said Brandon Hagy, a junior who shot a 1-under 69 Wednesday and is 5 under overall. “. . . You just can’t short side yourself.”
The Bears went 9 over on the closing holes, dropping them to 8-under 272 on the day and 11-under 549 for the tournament. Homa would card a 5-under 65, top-ranked Michael Kim fired an even-par 70 and Joel Stalter posted a 2-under 68 to carry Cal to within a shot of Georgia Tech’s midday lead.
But Cal could have run away without a couple of hiccups late on the back nine.
Homa’s late sputter started with a tee shot pulled to the left at the 520-yard par-4 16th. He hit the green, but was still a good 75 feet away from the hole. He proceeded to three-putt.
“I had made my fair share of putts all day,” Homa added.
After a par at No. 17, Homa went to 18 thinking he would need one more good hole.
Homa hit a good tee shot with a 3-wood, and it landed in the first cut of rough. With 195 yards into the green and a cross downwind coming back to him, he just need another good swing. That didn’t happen and he ended up in the bunker, missing his first green of the day. He nearly flew his bunker shot into the cup but it rolled out to 40 feet. His par attempt lipped out and a tricky 4-footer coming back also didn’t drop, leading to another three-putt — as he settled for 65.
“He’s gonna have some R&A. You know what R&A stands for, or a red fanny is the best way of putting it. But he’s played really well as of late, and put himself in a good position here, too,” Desimone said.
Recently, Homa decided to stay amateur for the summer and try to make the 10-man Walker Cup team in September. His play has been stellar since.
Demisone said Homa had really gone back and forth on what his immediate future is going to be. During the last seven to eight weeks, since he’s made his decision, the old Homa has come back.
It has shown in his play. In his last three tournaments, Homa finished T-2, 1st and 11th, all with a 68.8 scoring average.
In his fourth year as an NCAA Championship participant, Homa said he has learned how to carry himself.
“I’m a bit less nervous and not worried about my score. Yesterday was a grind, so I knew if I could post even it would be OK,” Homa said. “Today, you come out more patient and you make a few more birdies. Freshman and sophomore year you’re worried about making birdies and not making mistakes that it hurt your game a bit more.”
Mistakes are part of the game, but when it comes to Cal’s perfectionist attitude that led to a record 11 wins this season, nothing less than the lead is accepted.