The beautiful scenery of Hawaii can be distracting, but the focus of the No. 4 UCLA men’s golf team will remain fixed on the task at hand when they travel to the Big Island for the Amer Ani Invitational today.
Despite the fact that the team hasn’t seen tournament play since November, the Bruins will look to start the second half of their season off right with competition against some of the country’s top-ranked teams.
“You do have to keep in mind that it’s not a vacation week, and we are going there to win a golf tournament. It’s a little tough because it is Hawaii and you want to go to the beach and have fun,” senior Alex Kim said.
The UCLA team expects little rust and to be ready from the first tee.
The team’s confidence is due in large part to the competitive weather advantage it has had in Los Angeles. Unlike other teams, the UCLA players are able to hone their skills on the golf course year-round. The competitive nature of the team is another advantage for the Bruins.
“The great thing about being in Southern California is that you’re able to play and practice, and our team is highly competitive,” coach Derek Freeman said.
“So even though we haven’t been competing against other teams, we have our own internal competition every day at practice.”
The Bruins who are traveling to the islands with Kim ““ juniors Pedro Figueiredo and Pontus Widegren and sophomores Patrick Cantlay and Anton Arboleda ““ will need all the advantages they can get as they face a daunting group of opponents.
Arguably UCLA’s stiffest competition all year, the field consists of four other top-10 teams, including No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Oregon.
The Amer Ani Invitational will serve as an early measuring stick for the talented Bruins who, if they win the tournament, will do their best to ride a wave of momentum from Hawaii all the way to the NCAA Championships in May and June.
“I think we’re all playing well, and to start the spring with a win would set a rhythm for the rest of the year, especially in such a good tournament with great teams,” Figueiredo said. “It would give us confidence, knowing we could beat any team in the country going forward.”
While the UCLA roster is stacked with skilled players, so are the rosters of many of their opponents.
Freeman’s key to victory is to control the mental aspects of the game.
“As a team, we always talk about being smart, making the best decisions, understanding how the pressure is (on the course) and using it to your advantage,” Freeman said.
With the exception of accounting for the lengthy trip west, the Bruins will approach this week’s tournament just like any other.
“It wouldn’t matter if we were (in Hawaii) or in Chicago, we’re still going to prepare the same way and do the same things. It’s just warmer and you got an ocean to look at,” Freeman said.