Desimone Hopes to Mix Golden Bears Into Champions

Jan. 25, 2008

With a solid mix of veteran talent and young promise, California head coach Steve Desimone hopes to play the part of world-famous chef and blend the Golden Bear men's golf team into a championship contender in 2008. Or more appropriately for the University of California, Desimone hopes to fill the role of Nobel Prize-winning scientist for the Bears. Either way, Cal has the ingredients for success, if it can find the right formula.

The Golden Bears come into 2008 as one of the premiere ball striking teams in the country - statistically one of the best in the nation in fairways hit and greens hit in regulation. The focus in training has turned to putting and short-game skill - and with the opening of Cal's exclusive new short-game facility, the means are in place for significant improvement in those areas.

Another important key for the team will be the return to health of senior Brandon Beck who missed the fall due to illness. A proven leader and a Pac-10 all-conference selection, Beck's experience will be leaned on heavily by Desimone.

'If we want to be a major player on the national scene, a lot of things have to fit,' Desimone said. 'Brandon's going to have to play at a very high level and our other veterans need to play well and provide solid leadership. But for us to be a national contender, our young guys are going to have to grow quickly. If we can improve in the two areas we've identified, then this is going to be a good golf team, no doubt about it. Our best years are definitely ahead of us.'

Cal used the fall of 2007 to work heavily on developing its younger players, especially with senior Michael Jensen redshirting the 2007-08 campaign and Beck missing the fall. Junior George Gandranata (71.7 fall average) and sophomore Andrey Mindirgasov (tied for 13th at Falcon Invitational) continued to be solid members of the lineup. Sophomore Evan Derian, who battled injuries as a rookie, looks to be back to full-health and tallied an even 72.0 stroke average in the fall. Freshmen Stephen Hale (72.2 fall average) and Eric Mina (73.5) were both highly-touted rookies who have justified their early praise. Senior Freddy Wolfe is very powerful off the tee while junior Erick Thorson and another freshman, Feldman Tan, who competed in the Falcon Invitational, add further depth to the Bear lineup.

'There's not a large margin for error,' Desimone said. 'There are great college teams and great players all over the country, but you can once again make a case the Pac-10 is the best conference in the nation. We need the juniors and seniors to be our anchors. They need to put up good numbers round after round. From that, the hope is that the younger guys will gain valuable experience, gain confidence and put up solid numbers. And that is what has happened so far. Stephen Hale has one top 10, one top 20, and one top 25 finish in his four events. Evan Derian has played very well now that he is healthy and has two top-eight finishes. Evan has clearly shown to be one of the best ball strikers on the west coast. When you look at that, we feel like we have a pretty good group heading into the spring.'

Scheduling has also been part of Desimone's plan to develop his 2008 squad into national contenders. The Golden Bears will play a national slate of tournaments, with visits to Arizona, Hawaii, Arizona State as well as the top California events once again.

'With the competition we'll see at these tournaments, there is great opportunity for us to move up in the rankings,' Desimone said. 'The golf courses we're playing for the most part set up well for our strengths, especially ball-striking. The courses are very demanding from tee to green, so I feel really good about that.'

Another key to the Bears' fortunes lies in the Pac-10 Championship, which will be hosted by Cal on one of its home courses, The Meadow Club in Fairfax, Calif. The Bears are intimately familiar with The Meadow Club having won their fall event, the Alister MacKenzie Invitational, three times in six years. Desimone is confident that if his squad plays to their potential, they will be able to compete for their first league championship - which of course guarantees a bid to the NCAA Regionals.

'Our primary goal is to qualify and compete in the NCAA Championship every year,' Desimone said. 'It's pretty simple. You have to make it to the Regionals first, play well there and then be ready for college golf's grandest stage. With what we have in place on this team, I think we'll be very competitive this spring, and our goal will be to play at Purdue in late May.'

Cal has qualified for the NCAA Regionals in nine of the last 11 years, advancing to the NCAA Championships five times in that stretch - of course, the most memorable year was 2004 when Desimone's tweaking brought the Golden Bears together at just the right time, directing Cal to its first men's golf national title.

For the Bears to reach that level again, Desimone will need to use his 36 years of coaching experience to find that scientific formula for success. Or more accurately, he will need to be less a scientist than chef - and follow his heart and instincts to develop the recipe for success for the 2008 Golden Bears.

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