Kohala Coast, Hawaii
No. 1 Bruins take off to Hawaii with four players ranked in the top 25. UCLA finished in eighth place at last year's tournament.
Pontus Widegren didn’t golf once over winter break.
Snow-covered fairways and frozen greens in the UCLA sophomore’s home country of Sweden prevented him from hitting the links.
Sweden may not be an ideal place for golf, but the UCLA men’s golf team is going somewhere that is. Widegren and the No. 1 Bruins are enjoying 80-degree weather as they tee off in their first tournament of the spring season today.
Monday, the Bruins boarded a plane and headed off to the big island of Hawaii for the Hawaii-Hilo Intercollegiate Tournament hosted by the Universities of Hawai’i Hilo and Manoa.
“It’s really important (to start off well),” said Widegren, the No. 16 golfer in the country. “Things aren’t going to be perfect from the get-go, and I think it’s important to understand we haven’t competed in a while.”
“I think that the better we start off, the more confident we are going to be going into the rest of the year.”
Competing alongside Widegren are freshmen Patrick Cantlay and Anton Arboleda, sophomore Mario Clemens and junior Gregor Main.
Main was able to play over break and improve certain aspects of his game.
“I just worked on my swing a little bit, my mechanics,” said Main, the nation’s No. 12 golfer. “And I worked a lot on my short game, especially my green reading.”
Those improved green reading skills will come in handy at Waikoloa Kings’ Golf Course, a links-style course built on an ancient lava field that is known for its well-protected greens.
The highest-ranked golfer on the team is neither Main nor Widegren, but rather Cantlay, the No. 6-ranked golfer who is taking the nation by storm as a freshman.
“Patrick is probably one of the more talented guys I’ve ever played with,” Widegren said.
“He knows his own game really, really well for being that young,” Widegren added. “It was obvious that the adjustment to play college golf wasn’t that big for him.”
Although they will be golfing within putting distance of the ocean, the Bruins will have little time devoted to anything besides their competition. The team will have its hands full competing against many of the top teams in the country. But the team is in Hawaii; who wouldn’t want to enjoy everything the islands have to offer?
“If we have extra time I’m sure we’ll go to the beach and see what Hawaii is all about,” Clemens said. “The people in Hawaii are just so nice that I can’t wait to go over there and experience it.”
The tournament, which runs today through Friday, is played in the five-count-four format in which a team has five players play and counts the four best scores each day.
Last year, the Bruins finished eighth in the tournament. This year, the team will see if it can live up to its No. 1 ranking and depart the island with a victory.