In the world of golf, the word “Masters” cannot be said without evoking thoughts of the most elite golfers.
This sentiment holds true at the college level as well. The No. 5 UCLA men’s golf team will enter the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, which boasts a field that could be mistaken for that of the NCAA Championship.
The Las Vegas tournament plays host to three of the top five teams in the nation, including No. 1 Texas. 11 of the 15 teams in the field are ranked in the top 25 nationally.
“These are teams we’re for sure going to see in the national championship, so we might as well see them (now),” junior Pontus Widegren said. “I think we’re certainly among the top teams in the country, and we’re always excited to beat (other top teams).”
Living up to the tournament’s name is the Southern Highlands Golf Course, which can be treacherous even for skilled golfers.
At the same tournament and course a year ago, UCLA struggled, shooting 12 over par with only one player under par for the weekend.
“It has firm greens and it could be a little windy out there, so it should be a good challenge,” Widegren said. “It’s a ball striker’s golf course; the rough is usually pretty thick and the greens are very fast.”
One UCLA golfer, though, is unfazed by the potentially daunting course.
The Bruins’ top golfer, sophomore Patrick Cantlay, will be playing in the PGA Tour Masters just a month from now. Still, Cantlay is approaching the weekend in the same manner as any other time he steps onto a golf course.
“(My approach) is nothing different, just hit fairways and greens just like any other week,” Cantlay said.
The Bruins will need Cantlay and company to be at the top of their game in order to win in Las Vegas, and they have the confidence to do so following last week’s team win.
“Winning last week definitely puts the team in a good mindset,” Cantlay said. “I think most of the guys on the team really like the golf course. I do as well, and we feel like we have a good chance of winning again.”
Joining UCLA in its pursuit of a second straight team tournament win is junior Mario Clemens, who earned a spot in the varsity rotation after taking first place at an individual tournament in Goodyear, Ariz., last week.
“We’ve all experienced the competitiveness that (each of us) have on the team. It’s been a good week off from tournaments, but we’re getting good competition on the team every week,” Widegren said.
Compiled by Steven Covella, Bruin Sports contributor.