Q&A With Cal Head Men's Golf Coach Steve Desimone
A graduate of Cal, Coach Desimone is entering his 29th season as the Golden Bears' head men's golf coach. While Cal's 2004 NCAA Championship is absolutely one of his greatest moments, the experiences he has had working with young student-athletes throughout his career will be the memories he will treasure for the rest of his life.
What do you look for when recruiting a student-athlete for the Cal Golf team?
That's simple....we look for good guys, good students and good players, especially young men willing to work hard but who also have a sense of humor and a great personality. We are looking for special young men who understand and welcome the academic and athletic challenges here at Cal; young men with high goals and aspirations who have personalities that will fit in with our team. It takes a special, highly motivated young man to succeed here.
How much does the value of a Cal degree help in recruiting?
When I look at what the graduates of this program are doing, they're spread out all over the world doing great things in all walks of life. I would match our group of Cal golf alums against any group of alums in the country.
What other aspects of the university help in your recruiting efforts?
Cal has a great reputation. The London Times has ranked the University of California as one of the top two Universities in the world (Harvard was ranked number one). When you start from that position, you have a lot to work from. Clearly, the quality of the education, the environment and the diversity of the campus - there's no campus in the world like it - are all factors in a ranking like that. Then when you add the world-class athletic programs we have, it doesn't get any better than the University of California.
What about Cal's location?
Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area are two of the greatest areas in the world in which to live. People travel from all over to visit the city and the area; it is one of the most photographed places; and it offers an incredible range of activities, from educational to cultural to athletic. The Bay Area also has a wide-range of professional opportunities for recent college graduates. And the climate is as good as it gets. We have students here who can go surfing in the Pacific in the morning, play golf in the afternoon, and then head to Lake Tahoe to go skiing later that evening. This area has the whole package - it's as good as it gets.
What is the biggest challenge for a young golfer joining the Cal program?
You can start with time management and a strong work ethic. The transition from high school to college can be very difficult. Virtually every player I've had over the years has mentioned that this was tougher than they thought it was going to be, but not that it was so daunting that they couldn't succeed. In order to be successful, they have to grow; they have to communicate; and they have to do things differently than they have before. I enjoy seeing the changes in our players from their first semester on campus to their second semester - the difference, the confidence, the experience, the new friendships, learning the system...they're not rookies anymore, they're veterans. Watching that transition is truly one of the great things that happens here at Cal. But the learning and growing doesn't just stop at the end of their freshmen year, they continue to mature throughout their time here as they grow into young adults. Cal forces you to think, to grow as a person, and we believe those are healthy things.
Does Cal provide what is necessary to help a young golfer make the transition from high school?
Yes, I go back to the success of our current players and our alums. The formula for success is here. If they understand and execute the formula, the sky's the limit. Our student-athlete support services are as good as they get - both The Los Angeles Times and the University of Minnesota have done in-depth reviews of student-athlete support services around the U.S. in the last three years. Cal was selected by both as the model for such services. Semester after semester, our players achieve at a high academic level, and in large part, that is directly attributable to the Athletic Study Center. We're not here to just be a golf factory. We're here to challenge our young men in school and in golf and to help them succeed in that challenge. The direction and support provided by our Athletic Study Center allows them to achieve that academic success.
What is your favorite thing about coaching?
Working with our young men and seeing them grow as people and as players. I knew coaching was my calling as a young man, and I've been coaching for 36 years, the last 29 at Cal. Coaches have played important roles in my life, both good and bad. It was important for me to think that maybe I could play a positive role in watching my players grow and mature into young men. It's all about working with the players and competing and being there with them, for both the highs and the lows. It's teaching our student-athletes about teamwork, about work ethic, commitment, leadership, the intangibles and the tangibles.
What is your favorite thing about coaching at Cal?
The quality of the young men in our program. They challenge us every day. They are always soaking up information, they're thinking, they're questioning, they're always making life interesting. The many experiences here at Cal challenge our players to think about life and growing as an individual. We do it here in school, in golf, socially, every thing you need to grow as a person, it's on this campus.
What do you hope each of your golfers learns during his time at Cal?
First and foremost, we want our young man to come out of here having a wonderful experience, knowing that they've been challenged. When they leave us after four or five years, we hope to have provided a solid foundation that prepares our players for the next steps in their lives. While some of our young men go on and turn pro, we strive for all of them to do well academically and to graduate - to get a quality education and a meaningful degree.
What would make a dream season with Cal Golf for you?
It would be a second NCAA championship and doing it exactly as we did it in 2004. We had great players who excelled in both school and golf, and their hard work paid off in an NCAA championship. To me, that is the true definition of a dream season, and I'd like to think we can do it again using the same formula.
What is your philosophy with scheduling?
We take into account many factors when planning our schedule. First and foremost, we're looking at how to best develop our team. Following that, there are certain events we want to play in because of the quality of the field and the quality of the golf course. Is it a tournament or course that would host a major event, an NCAA Championship or conference championship? Then we take into account other factors. There are some events that are great opportunities for our team, educationally and culturally. In the fall of 2000, we competed in Japan; we used to compete in Mexico, playing in Monterrey and Guadalajara; we're looking at going to Asia this June. We're always looking at finding new places; it's great that our players can have these cross-cultural experiences. It is important for our guys to see different parts of our country and different parts of the world. It's all part of the Berkeley experience; it's part of that diversity.
Is it extra rewarding to be the coach at your alma mater?
No question about it. I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world. I can say Cal has been in my blood since the early 60's. I find it hard to believe that I came here to play basketball, and now I'm in my 29th year as the head men's golf coach. With all the experiences and traveling I've done over the years, I cannot imagine a greater place to be or a better institution to represent than Cal.
Do you keep in contact with many of your former golfers?
Yes, I hear from former players all of the time. I've had, and still have, great relationships with many of my former players - and even with past parents. Once you are a part of the Cal Golf program, you are part of the Cal Golf family. If you look at our Cal Golf Committee, almost half of the committee is former players. I very much treasure the fact that two of my former players have become assistant coaches for me. Jay Berkowitz was my first assistant coach and now Walter Chun, my current assistant. That speaks to what we're trying to do in our program. Their experiences led them to say, 'This is important to me, and I'd like to share this with young men also.' That's something I'll always be proud of. When you look back, some of my fondest memories are getting together with former players and laughing and reminiscing about some of the incredibly wonderful times we have had together as part of the Cal Golf program, the Cal Golf family. When I leave here, I will have lots of great memories and great friendships.
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