Golden Bears back on track
Hagy, Homa lead Cal back into top three of leaderboard
MILTON, Ga. -- California entered the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship as the obvious team to beat.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Pac-12 champions had won 11 of 13 tournaments on the season to set a modern-day NCAA record. So when the Golden Bears began play Tuesday with a team score of 3-under that was respectable but hardly spectacular -- good enough for fifth place out of 30 teams -- it did raise an eyebrow or two.
It also motivated the Cal golfers, who took advantage of early tee times and seemingly easier conditions in Wednesday’s second round of stroke play to light up the leaderboard. At one point the team, led by junior Brandon Hagy and senior Max Homa, was 20-under-par for the tournament and 17-under for the day before falling back a bit down the stretch to finish in second on the day.
The top eight teams in terms of total strokes after 54 holes will square off in three additional days of match play, beginning Friday, to determine which school ultimately is crowned national champion.
“We just wanted to play smart and take advantage of the opportunities when we could. For the most part, I think that’s what we did,” said Hagy, who posted a 69 on the heels of his opening-round 66 to go to 5-under for the 54-hole stroke-play portion of the tournament.
Homa, meanwhile, was 8-under-par through 15 holes before a bogey at No. 16 and a double-bogey, three-putt finish on No. 18 forced him to settle for a round of 65 at the par-70, 7,319-yard Crabapple Course at the Capital City Club. He is tied for fourth with Hagy and several others who are chasing leader Jon Rahm of Arizona State for individual medalist honors.
“Sixteen is just a tough hole. I think I was putting from about 75 feet, so I wasn’t too upset about making bogey there,” Homa said. “On 18, I just hit into the greenside bunker, lipped out on a 40-footer and then just missed a tricky 4-footer coming back. But I can’t be too disappointed with a 65.”
Even as Homa wrestled with the frustration of his unexpected difficult finish, he was hustled off along with playing partner Scott Strohmeyer of Alabama to meet with NCAA rules officials to discuss possible slow-play violations. Both he and Strohmeyer eventually were cleared without being assessed a penalty, but Alabama coach Jay Seawell said of the meeting, “They actually grill you pretty good. You feel like you’re in a Turkish prison.”
Asked afterward if that seemed accurate, Homa grinned and replied, “I don’t know what a Turkish prison is like, but I felt like I was in detention. They had me outside, told me to wait with Strohmeyer. It was like we had ditched classes or something. It wasn’t fun. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Earlier, Homa and teammate Hagy unleashed an onslaught of birdies that the rest of the field wished it could have avoided. Hagy, playing one group behind Homa, said he knew his teammate had it going early.
“I know I saw Max making some putts, but I didn’t really know how hot of a start we got off to,” Hagy said. “I just made a few bogeys coming in. But some of those holes are pretty tough. Even in the morning, you were playing into the wind with tough hole locations.”
Cal coach Steve Desimone said the course suits Hagy, who is a long hitter.
“He followed up a really solid round [Tuesday] with another really good, solid round [on Wednesday],” Desimone said. “This golf course sets up real well for him. There’s not a lot of rough and he hits it a mile. So his game fits this course really well, and I would expect him to come out and do the same thing again [Thursday.]
“His length on a course like this that’s so long is a real advantage and Brandon is doing a good job of taking full advantage of it.
Desimone said he was pleased overall with the round posted by Homa, but both he and Homa knew it could have and probably should have been even better.
“He’s going to have some good ol' RA -- and you know what RA stands for, right? Red fanny is the best way to put it, with that double-bogey on 18,” Desimone said.
Overall, though, the work of Homa and Hagy and their teammates was good enough to put the top-ranked Golden Bears in solid position to be one of the top eight teams to advance to match play, beginning Friday. They also remain in the hunt to grab the top seed for match play.
“Let’s put it this way: when I woke up this morning, if you would have told me we’d shoot 7-, 8- or 9-under, I would have said that’s the best thing going,” Desimone said. “But we finished [hole Nos.] 12 and 13 and we were way up and were in good shape, 20-under [for the tournament] or whatever. It was party time. Now it feels like a root canal. There is a lot of golf left and there are a lot of great teams around us. We’ve put ourselves in a real good position, but this thing is not a done deal.”
“It’s nice to have some breathing room," Homa said, "because [Thursday] will be about the most stressful day of our lives.”