For the No. 3 UCLA men’s golf team, finishing anywhere other than first is a disappointment. The Bruins came into the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, carrying all of the expectations that accompany such a ranking. But in their first three tournaments, the Bruins were still winless.
After all the preparation they had gone through to reach the top, there was no doubt that there was building frustration around the team.
The pressure was alleviated this past week, though, when the men’s golf team captured its first win at the U.S. Collegiate Championship in Alpharetta, Ga., removing the proverbial monkey off its back.
“Any time you win, it’s an accomplishment because you feel like your hard work paid off,” coach Derek Freeman said. “The guys did a great job; it was challenging and it was a battle to the very end, and I’m very proud of our performance.”
The win was the first since UCLA placed first at the NCAA West Regional Tournament in May.
This was the first tournament in the 2011-2012 season in which UCLA fielded arguably its strongest lineup, as sophomore Patrick Cantlay, juniors Pedro Figueiredo and Pontus Widegren and senior Alex Kim all competed.
“It was really nice having everyone there for the tournament,” Kim said. “I think it was a really strong team that we took to Atlanta, and this should be a good indicator for how we’ll do the rest of the year.”
While the Bruins left Alpharetta with a win, the tournament started slowly for the team, as it finished tied for sixth place after the first day, scoring a 288 (E). Cantlay led the charge with a 69 (-3) while junior Mario Clemens posted a 70 (-2).
“The first day didn’t go how we wanted at all. I think we were all sort of adjusting to the course and trying to find our game,” Figueiredo said. “We usually do our best not to dig ourselves holes, but that’s what we did and I feel like we did a good job getting out of it.”
Kim carried the load on the second day as his 69 (-3) helped thrust UCLA to a 569 (-7) overall, only three strokes behind host Georgia State.
UCLA’s score was the best on this day, giving it momentum heading into the third and final day.
On the final day of competition, Clemens and Figueiredo both finished under par to put UCLA into the lead, and each of the five golfers closed out the 18th hole with birdies.
“We finished so much better on the second and third days. The first day we played well until the middle of the back nine, and we just could finish it off,” Freeman said. “We played well all three rounds, but we finished much better at the end. Today, we had five guys birdie the last hole and that’s huge for us; that was really important.”
Cantlay closed out the tournament by hitting a birdie to solidify the win with a team score of 852 (-12), three strokes better than fellow Pac-12 member Washington.
Cantlay finished tied for third individually with a 212 (-4) overall score, while Clemens, Figueiredo, Kim and Widegren all finished in the top 22.
“A lot of teams had trouble down the stretch on the last day, and I was really happy how we took advantage of that,” Kim said. “We played the back nine really well, and that was big for us to come back and win it today.”
With its first win under its belt, UCLA will now head back home for The Gifford Collegiate at CordeValle where they will play host and search for win No. 2.
“We want to start a little winning streak now,” Figueiredo said. “It’s our own tournament, so it’s a special event for us. We want to keep building on this win and move forward.”