2004: College - Sleeping Bears awake with title
Hot Springs, Va.
At best, the University of California was considered a “sleeper” to win this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Championship when the week began at The Homestead Resort’s Cascades Course. It was understandable.
After all, here was a program that had been demoted to a club sport in 1979. It was returned to the intercollegiate level in 1982 with one major condition – it would receive no funding from the school or athletic department. All funds had to be raised by coach Steve Desimone and any supporters he could gather. Even this year, the program operated on only 21⁄2 scholarships (the maximum for Division I is 41⁄2), and those had to go to in-state players.
Also, Cal had little NCAA pedigree when matched with the bulk of the starting field. It was making only its fifth appearance in the NCAA finals and only once had placed in the top 10, finishing sixth in 1995.
Then consider that this season the Bears, although winning two tournaments in the fall and placing second in another, struggled much of the spring as they battled injuries to two key players: senior co-captains Scott Carlyle, who nursed an aching back all spring, and Peter Tomasulo, who injured his wrist at Arizona State’s Thunderbird Invitational in early April. Both became question marks for the postseason.
Going into the NCAA Championship, California, ranked No. 20 in the Golfweek⁄Sagarin College Rankings, was a long way from being considered the best team in the Pacific-10 Conference, let alone the country.
With a sixth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championship and a tie for seventh at the NCAA West Regional, it hardly appeared the Bears were ready to seriously challenge for college golf’s ultimate prize.
But that’s exactly what the Bears did – from start to finish.
Cal shot a final round-best, 1-under-par 279 in cold, rainy and windy conditions June 4 to leave The Homestead with the national championship trophy. They did it by playing steady golf, by limiting their mistakes, and mostly by, as junior Jeff Hood put it, “playing with our hearts.”
The Bears wrapped up their first NCAA golf title with a 14-over 1,134 total over the par-70, 6,679-yard layout for a six-stroke victory over UCLA. Arizona finished third, 14 shots back.
“Every coach here, every second, every minute, every hour, every day, we practice for this day,” said a jubilant Desimone as he hugged players and tried to hold back tears of joy. “We knew we had a great team. I told the guys at the first team practice last fall that the night before the final round we were going to be in position to win a national championship.
“Then last night (before final round), I said this is it – one great round and we’re the national champions. And, lo and behold, they did it and here we are. Yes, dreams do come true.”
On the individual side, UNLV junior Ryan Moore, playing as an individual, shot a closing 4-under 66 to finish at 13-under 267 and give the Rebels their second NCAA medalist and first since Warren Schutte in 1991. Moore finished six strokes in front of Arizona senior Chris Nallen and Wake Forest senior Bill Haas.
UCLA, considered by many one of the favorites to win the title, held a five-stroke lead over Kentucky and was eight clear of California entering the final round. With a veteran squad of four seniors and a junior, all members of last year’s NCAA third-place team, it appeared UCLA was on its way to match the title the women’s team won May 22.
But Cal jumped out to a quick start, going 5 under through seven holes to catch the Bruins and when the Bears took the lead early on the back nine, there would be no looking back.
“This is just the best feeling in the world,” said Tomasulo, a first-team All-American this season.
“It was a rough end of the season and it felt like everything was falling out of place. Then, this week, everything started to fall back into place.
“This is just so great for us and our program, but especially for coach. He has worked so hard for the past 25 years to get this from a club sport. This program has come a long way and now we are the national champion, and that sounds pretty darn good.”
On the final day, California eliminated mistakes, UCLA did not.
Over the final 18, the Bears’ four counting players made 13 birdies (five from Tomasulo) and 10 bogeys, while the Bruins had 10 birdies and 14 bogeys. But the key was Cal made only one double bogey to UCLA’s one triple bogey and three double bogeys.
Cal’s 279 finish included a 3-under 67 from Tomasulo and a 69 from Hood, with both tying for 10th individually, along with 71 from sophomore Michael Wilson and 72 from J.R. Ruda, both tying for 33rd.
“To shoot 1 under par in the conditions we had out here today is phenomenal and about as good as it can get,” said Desimone, in his 25th year at Cal. “To win this championship is a dream come true and a tribute to our guys and all the hard work they have put forth over the last few years. . . I haven’t had time for this to sink in all the way just yet, and I’m not sure what it will mean for our program.”
UCLA’s closing 13-over 293 included 72s from Travis Johnson, who finished fifth overall, and Roy Moon.
“There’s not much to say,” said UCLA coach O.D. Vincent. “Cal played a great round of golf today under some tough conditions and are deserving champions. I couldn’t be happier for Steve Desimone. He’s as good a person as there is and he truly deserves this.”