Removing the world’s best player from a team doesn’t make the quest for a championship any easier.
But this year’s UCLA men’s golf team has been able to remain in contention for the title even after the departure of Patrick Cantlay, the 2011 winner of the McCormack Medal, awarded to the world’s top-ranked amateur golfer.
Without their highly touted former teammate, the Bruins have performed well enough this season to be ranked No. 4 in the nation heading into the NCAA regionals, where they are the top seed in the Tempe, Ariz. region.
UCLA placed second at last week’s Pac-12 tournament, finishing behind the nation’s No. 1 squad, California. While players acknowledged that losing a player of Cantlay’s caliber is always difficult, coach Derek Freeman has plenty of confidence in the golfers on his team.
“More than anything our guys understand that we have a lot of great players every single year. Some of them might not have as much publicity as (Patrick) did, b-ut we have guys that are extremely talented and very accomplished,” Freeman said. “With that being said, losing a great player like him is always difficult, but our guys … have worked hard and brought their games to the level they are at now.”
Without Cantlay, much of the responsibility fell on the shoulders of seniors Pontus Widegren and Pedro Figueiredo, and they have lived up to the increased expectations. Each of them has earned a top 20 ranking nationally, rated No. 10 and No. 19, respectively, with Widegren recording one individual tournament victory this year and Figueiredo tallying two. With such a young team around them, the pair of seniors see that their leadership has been just as valuable to the team as their play on the course.
“I just try to lead by example and help the freshmen especially,” Figueiredo said. “Help them and make them feel comfortable, and then go out and play the best I can to lead our team.”
Widegren echoed this statement, pointing to the knowledge they’ve accumulated playing together the last four years as a key part of their leadership roles.
“I think both Pedro and I have matured a lot over our four years here at UCLA. All the experience we’ve gathered through the years has helped us to be mentors at times to the younger guys,” Widegren said. “We have a really good, confident vibe around our team, and it feels like we’re peaking at the right time and have something waiting for us in these coming weeks.”