Whom to pick: Alabama or Cal? Wrong Ron weighs in . . .
PHOTOS: NCAA Championship (Practice)
View a few images of Monday's practice round at Capital City Club Crabapple Course in Milton, GA.
My first intention was to give Alabama a second chance.
It was last year at this time when, in my annual Wrong Ron column picking the winner of the men’s NCAA Division I Championship, that I went with the boys from Tuscaloosa.
The Crimson Tide made a good run it. They advanced to the final match only to drop a heart breaking 3-and-2 decision to Texas when Longhorns senior Dylan Frittelli drained a 30-plus-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to win his match.
And why not go with the Tide again? Four of the players from coach Jay Seawell’s team of a year ago are back, and this has been a banner season.
Alabama is No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and won a school-record seven times. Six of those wins have come in the Tide’s seven spring starts, including the SEC Championship and an impressive come-from-behind victory at the NCAA Southeast Regional.
Three Alabama players rank in the top 10, with No. 2 Bobby Wyatt, No. 4 Cory Whitsett and No. 8 Justin Thomas, last season’s freshman and player of the year. In addition, there’s No. 37 Trey Mullinax and No. 57 Scott Strohmeyer, who is fresh off his biggest college win at last week’s regional.
Alabama has all the firepower to win it all and, normally, would be an obvious pick.
But this has not been a normal year in the college golf world. In fact, thanks to California, this has been a year like no other. For the Golden Bears, it has truly been a golden season.
So I asked myself, “Self, how can you not pick Cal to complete its historic season with a victory at the biggest event of them all?"
The answer was simple. I can’t.
I mean, what a season the Bears are having. By far the best in what I consider the modern era – that would be since the NCAA came out with the 24 playing-date rule combined with regional play, which began in 1989.
Cal has won 11 tournaments in 13 starts while finishing second and third in its non-win events. The Bears were undefeated in the fall and have been No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings since mid-September.
Way back when, in 1981-82, UCLA posted 13 victories. But that was in 20 starts and no 24-day rule. That gives those Bruins a .650 winning percentage.
Cal’s current winning percentage is .846, and a victory at the NCAA finals would put them at .857. And what makes it most impressive is the competition level in which the Bears have competed.
“We’ve taken on everyone from every part of the country,” said Cal coach Steve Desimone. “We haven’t shied away from anyone. We’ve played against the best of the best this season.”
The Bears certainly have done that at events such as the Ping/Golfweek Preview, Isleworth, John Burns, Southern Highlands Masters, Western, Pac-12 and the NCAA West Regional. They finished first in all of those.
Cal has done it with a lineup that is loaded with talent from top to bottom. All five starters rank among the top 25 in the country, led by No. 1 Michael Kim. Then there’s 2012 U.S. Amateur runner-up Michael Weaver (9), Joel Stalter (12), Max Homa (19) and Brandon Hagy (25).
Each of the five has won at least one tournament this season, which is most impressive in itself.
Thus, Cal will be under the pressure and wearing the bull's-eye at which the other 29 teams will take aim when the NCAA Championship finals take place May 28-June 2 at Capital City Golf Club’s Crabapple course just outside of Atlanta.
“The way I look at it,” Desimone said, “is I’d rather be under that pressure than not. We’ve had a great year, and we’ve been wearing that bull's-eye since mid-September. But these guys have handled it well. They’ve been tested and pretty much passed every test. They know how to play under pressure and know how to win.”
In addition, and maybe most important of all, I think a Cal victory this coming week would be the best thing that could happen for college golf. Not only would it be history and record-book-making, but it would raise the bar of excellence to a level never seen before.
I expect Alabama to make a strong challenge, maybe even Texas, UCLA, New Mexico and host team Georgia Tech, which tied Cal for first place at Crabapple last fall in the Preview.
But when all is said and done come Sunday afternoon, I see the Golden Bears overcoming the Wrong Ron jinx (I’ve picked only three winners in the past 20-plus years) and hoisting that gold-colored trophy as the 2013 NCAA champions.