Young But Talented Men's Golf Team Hits the Links

Feb. 17, 2001

By Tim Haran

BERKELEY - Cal head coach Steve Desimone begins the 2001 campaign with his youngest group of golfers since 1985. This follows the rebuilding year of 2000 where the Golden Bears advanced to their fourth consecutive NCAA West Regionals and their third straight NCAA Championship. The 2001 season combines an interesting mix of youth and limited experience, a return of one of the top players in the country and the addition of an outstanding recruiting class. Desimone is looking forward to the opportunity and challenge of coaching this young but talented team.

The goals Desimone has set for the Cal team are lofty, but by all accounts the Bears are poised to live up to the coach's preseason expectations.

'The idea is to take a very young group of players and turn them into one of the best teams in the country,' Desimone said. 'I think we're beginning to show that's where we're heading.'The Bears finished a successful fall season that included placing third at the Pacific Invitational and fifth at the Husky Invitational. Toss in a seventh-place finish at the Topy Cup in Japan in extremely adverse weather conditions and a sixth-place finish at the Fresno Lexus Classic, and Cal is full of momentum heading into the 2001 season.

Although Cal lost two of its star golfers to graduation (All-American Han Lee and Robert Hamilton), the team gained a talented pool of freshmen and welcomed the return of Dong Yi after a redshirt season in 1999-00.

'We've got a great senior leader like Dong Yi, who is very steady and can put up some low numbers,' Desimone said. 'That's a good place to start.'

As one of the nation's best collegiate golfers, Yi sat out last season to focus on academics but proved during the fall season that he hasn't lost his stroke. The senior posted a 73.7 average in four tournaments. He shot a low round of 69 at the Husky Invitational and tied for 12th place at both the Topy Cup and the Fresno Lexus Classic.

But with a team full of talent, Yi might not be a lock to start at Cal's top spot. At the University of Arizona's PING Intercollegiate, in a nationally strong field, the Bears began the spring season with Desimone starting redshirt freshman Peter Tomasulo at the No. 1 position. Despite frigid conditions, Tomasulo led Cal with a 54-hole score of 210 (-3) and finished the tournament tied for fifth place. Yi also cracked the Top 10, finishing ninth, en route to the Bears second-place team finish.

Tomasulo finished the fall with a 73.1 stroke average, the best ever start by any freshman in the history of the program. 'I think Peter is going to be an outstanding player and he's certainly pushing Dong for that top spot,' Desimone said. 'It's great to see them battling head to head and I know J.R. (Ruda), after winning at the Pacific Invitational in the fall, wants a piece of that too. A little competition makes for good golf.'

This year's team may be young, Desimone said, but they know what it takes to compete against the best teams in the country.

'To play the game at a high level, you have to be able to hit good shots,' he said. 'You don't have to hit it all that long, but you need to have good ball strikers. We have that through the lineup, especially with our top four or five players.'

In addition to hitting the ball well, Desimone said that this year's team excels at adapting to different courses. It's something the team displayed throughout the fall and continues to master this spring.

'I really believe that in terms of overall course management this is the best team I've ever had from top to bottom,' Desimone said. 'These guys just know how to play the game.'

Desimone added that Cal's starting roster would include players that haven't had a lot of experience at the collegiate level, but have still played well. The coach referred specifically to junior Walter Chun, sophomore J.R. Ruda and freshman Tomasulo. 'They are very steady, very competitive,' he said.

Chun, who made the team through a tough try-out two years ago, played in all four of the Bears fall tournaments, posted a 74.8 scoring average and tied for 26th at the Topy Cup. The 5-foot-7 golfer is also a co-captain this season along with Yi and looks to be the team's sole captain next year. Ruda, meantime, had a steady fall where he competed in all four tournaments and won the Pacific Invitational with a three-round score of 209 (-9).

'J.R. (Ruda) is one of the best ball strikers I've ever seen,' Desimone said. 'It's just great to watch him hit a golf ball and I can never say enough good things about Walter (Chun). He's just flat-out clutch and finds a way to get things done.'

Desimone is pleased with the play of the team's top four golfers already this season. The lineup he started at the PING-Arizona Intercollegiate included Tomasulo, Yi, Ruda, Chun and true freshman Lance Torrey. 'Our top four seem to be evolving,' he said. 'We still have questions about the last couple of spots.'

The final positions were up in the air at the start of last season as well, Desimone said. Sophomore James Hahn could fill the fifth spot, as he did last year, but the coach didn't rule out Torrey or true freshman Jayme Berkowitz as the fifth man. Junior Xabi Laduche also returns to the Cal team, but currently has a broken hand and likely will not play. Freshmen Fred Sevekow, Joe Benvenuti, Eric Choi and Jeff Hood are redshirting this season.

'We had a great recruiting class,' Desimone said, specifically naming Torrey, Berkowitz and Hood. 'You can see where over time this can turn into a wonderful team, and it's definitely heading in that direction.'

Throughout the 1990s, Cal consistently proved they were one of the country's elite golf programs. Desimone acknowledged that out of nearly 300 NCAA Division I schools, only 13 have played in the last three NCAA Championships.

'From the Pacific-10 Conference, only Arizona, Arizona State and Cal are in that select group of schools,' he said. 'We're proud to be one of these programs. That's quite a tradition we're developing, and what's important for us is to follow up on that.'

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