Last year at this time, the UCLA men’s golf team was considered young and inexperienced.
What a difference a year makes.
The Bruins enter this year ranked No. 4 in Golfweek’s preseason poll, returning every player on a roster that finished 16th at the NCAA Championships in June.
“It doesn’t really matter where you begin the season,” junior Alex Shi Yup Kim said. “It’s good to be ranked high at the beginning of the season, but our goal is to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the season.”
Kim and junior Gregor Main, both of whom earned GCAA and Golfweek All-America Honorable Mention honors last season, highlight a Bruin roster that remains nearly unaltered.
Kim may have been UCLA’s most improved player last year and is ranked as No. 48 by Golfweek, nearly 400 spots higher than he was ranked 12 months ago.
“The goal is to improve every year,” said Kim, who lowered his scoring average almost four strokes to 71.6 last season. “I think I’m more prepared than I was last year, so I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t improve this year.”
Main, ranked No. 32 by Golfweek, set the UCLA single-season scoring record last year with a stroke average of 71.027. Main was the Bruin’s hottest player down the stretch and ended his season with an individual ninth-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
“Hopefully, I can just keep doing what I’m doing and keep playing well,” Main said. “And hopefully I can help the freshmen out so they can have a successful freshman year and help us get to that national championship like we all want.”
The only change to the Bruins’ roster is the addition of freshmen Anton Arboleda and Patrick Cantlay. Both golfers are from Southern California, and both were heavily recruited.
Second-Team All-Pac-10 sophomores Pontus Widegren of Sweden and Pedro Figueirido of Portugal should both benefit from another year of experience.
“Hopefully our foreign players, Pontus and Pedro, will be more used to living in the States, and hopefully they can play a little better this year for us,” Main said. “We’re all looking good for this year coming up.”
Just three years removed from their second national title, only senior Connor Driscoll and coach Derek Freeman remain from that 2008 squad.
Freeman will be able to see how this year’s team plays against some of the nation’s elite squads when the Bruins begin their fall season at the Ping/Golfweek Preview on Sept. 26 at Karsten Creek Golf Course in Stillwater, Okla. No. 1 Oklahoma State is hosting the event, and other competitors include defending national champion No. 2 Augusta State.
“Playing with good teams kind of shows you where you stand against a good team and what you need to improve on,” Kim said. “Seeing them during the season is good. … We push each other to get better.”
The tournament is a good opportunity for the Bruins to become familiar with the course where the NCAA Championships will take place in June, when the success of this year’s team will ultimately be judged.
“The goal for everyone at the beginning of the season is to win the NCAA, and that’s going to be our goal,” Kim said. “Not to win 10 tournaments during the season and play (poorly) in the NCAA. Our goal is to gear our game for the NCAA and in the end, end up as champions.”