Two tournaments into their season, the UCLA golf team has already achieved a No. 4 ranking, but they are aiming even higher.
Enter Jonathan Garrick and Jake Knapp, two freshmen whom coach Derek Freeman has chosen to start for the UCLA team in this weekend’s U.S. Collegiate Championships at Georgia Tech.
It’s a big decision for the sixth-year coach, who realizes that it’s time for his team to assert themselves on a national stage.
“We’ve got a lot to prove, to ourselves more than anyone ““ that we can play good golf, travel to the other side of the United States, prepare and play to put ourselves in a position to win this tournament.”
Sophomore Matt Pinizzotto, who has put forth strong performances in the Bruins’ previous tournaments this season, is just a year removed from his own freshman campaign. He remembers the steep learning curve in the psychology of collegiate golf.
“It’s definitely a different feeling when you’re playing team golf instead of as an individual. You come to college used to playing for yourself,” Pinizzotto said.
“Sometimes the pressure can get to you, knowing that your score counts and that you’re playing for something bigger than yourself and your personal goals. You’re playing for your school, representing UCLA and trying to support your teammates.”
The young golfers will have to adjust quickly to the scrutiny and expectations that go hand-in-hand with competing on a national stage.
As the Bruins have already competed in Golfweek Preview, this weekend’s journey represents their second trip to Georgia in less than a month. However, junior Anton Arboleda asserts that this weekend’s tournament will be unique, especially for the team’s younger players.
“It’s the closest thing that we get to a PGA tour event in the sense that there are big leaderboards, caddies and tournament gifts. We’re all really excited to get out there and compete,” Arboleda said.
Excitement for this professional treatment was a running current throughout a young team with limited collegiate experience.
Nevertheless, relative veterans such as Pinizzotto maintain confidence in their greenhorn counterparts.
“They’re both experienced golfers and great players so I don’t think anyone is worried about them not being ready to compete,” Pinizotto said. “Everyone is excited to have some new faces.”
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