Cal's Stalter takes long route to Berkeley, lineup
PHOTOS: NCAA Championship (Final Round of Stroke Play)
Look at images from Thursday at Capital City Club: Crabapple Course during the Men's final round of stroke play.
MILTON, Ga. -- Besides his French accent and European looks, Joël Stalter is just another one of the guys and part of the starting five on the No. 1 California men's golf team.
It was always a dream for Stalter to play college golf in America, but let alone at the school where he knew he always wanted to attend.
Stalter found his way to Cal when he was a freshman in high school. His high school had an exchange program that let students travel to America and see how life was for two weeks. The exchange program went to Florida, Colorado and California. Stalter ended up in Oakland, Calif. – only 15 minutes from Berkeley.
“I visited Stanford and Berkeley, and I said ‘That’s where I want to go (Cal),’ so it was great,” Stalter said.
But it didn’t happen with a snap of a finger.
As member of the French National Team, he got the e-mail addresses for coaches Steve Desimone and Walter Chun from the French Federation. Stalter had e-mailed numerous coaches about playing in the U.S., but struggled to get the coaches attention as he was ranked above No. 200 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. There were only a few schools recruiting Europeans at the time, and Cal was not one of them.
It was a different story with Stalter, though, as ‘Des’ showed interest.
“He made me feel like he really wanted me to come so really it was a dream come true,” Stalter said.
It wasn’t just about golf for Stalter, he wanted a good education, too.
“I didn’t know back then if I wanted to turn pro or anything, so I was real interested in the academics,” Stalter said. “Cal is a great name and a great school. So if I could get there and get a great degree and then just play golf every day, this is really perfect.”
It ended up working out. Cal was willing to give him a chance.
“I was not going to think twice, it’s such a good school,” Stalter said.
Since joining the team in 2010, he has played in 78 rounds for the Bears and owns a 71.95 stroke average (through the Pullman Regional).
At the beginning of this season, Stalter wasn’t cracking the lineup. He was getting outplayed by freshman Walker Huddy. He wasn’t playing bad he said, it was more that Huddy was playing that good.
“My first two months, before I started in my first tournament, I had only one round over par, and the rest were even par or better,” Stalter said.
It gave him more motivation. He worked harder and grinded more.
“It was a good thing, looking back now,” he added. “It probably helped me get better, you know, not taking things for granted.”
He played the final three tournaments of the fall – his best finish was third at the Alister MacKenzie, Cal’s home event.
From there he switched from the long putter to a short putter. The belly putter had helped him work on his putting stroke technique. But it was getting harder and harder to get a feel of lengthier putts. He admits that the long putter/anchoring helped him become more consistent.
“The thing was I had a feeling that it (anchoring) was going to get band, so I just switched back,” he said. “I was not playing great with a belly putter. I’m glad I did it.”
That’s when he picked up his first collegiate win at the John A. Burns Intercollegiate. In his next tournament, he finished T-1 with teammate Michael Kim at the Arizona Intercollegiate.
He didn’t fully admit that the change in putter led to his victories, but something about that wide grin on his face admitted it.
Even friend and French National team member TCU’s Julien Brun told Stalter, “‘you know whatever putter you use, you always putt well so it doesn’t matter.’”
That’s what the 5-foot-7 junior does, he goes about his business and plays to his strengths – his iron game and putting.
“I don’t hit it too far,” Stalter said. “. . . I hit it straight so it really helps. I can narrow in on my targets.”
Stalter finished the stroke-play portion of the NCAA tournament at 2-over 212 with rounds of 69-68-75.
Stalter does everything for his parents, who don’t get around to see him play much since they still live in Amneville, France, and own a restaurant. They got to see him play this year at Southern Highlands in Las Vegas, Nev., where the team won its eight tournament of the season and he finished T-11. They will be in the States next week though, as Stalter competes for Team Europe in the Palmer Cup.
He hopes he makes all their sacrifices worthwhile this week, as Cal tries to vie for its second National Championship.
His dreams have, and hopefully, will continue to come true.