UCLA men’s golf returned all eight golfers from its roster a season ago, but the additions of freshmen Eddy Lai and Devon Bling have given the team even more depth.
“We are definitely deeper than last year,” said coach Derek Freeman. “We had two freshmen in the lineup this week and both of those guys played extremely well in the second round and helped us shoot seven-under.”
The Bruins began day two of the Marquette Intercollegiate this week in eighth place after shooting twelve-over par on day one, but surged back into contention thanks to Lai and Bling.
Both freshmen recorded a second-round score of three-under par, which helped UCLA climb into second place. Lai ended the day in the top five of the individual leaderboards.
Lai finished the tournament tied with senior Tyler Collier for 16th place while Bling fell from 20th to a tie of 47th on day three.
However, with the emergence of Lai and Bling, Freeman made it clear that nobody has a spot in the lineup set in stone.
“When you’ve got two guys that can come in and be in the lineup, it is going to make you deeper automatically,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to find the right combination of players that are going to give us the best chance to be successful.”
UCLA has now recorded back-to-back top-three finishes in its first two tournaments of the season.
One player who was encouraged by what he saw this week is Collier.
“We were leading with nine holes to go so we put ourselves in position to do what we wanted to do,” Collier said. “We just didn’t get it done and Texas A&M beat us when it mattered.”
Collier struggled individually over the first two rounds, but bounced back on day three shooting one-under par. He said the team was right where it wanted to be, but came up just short.
He was on the roster that competed in last year’s NCAA Regional where he finished tied for 30th.
Despite UCLA not being able to finish the job Tuesday, sophomore Hidetoshi Yoshihara said the early success and newfound depth has them excited for the weeks ahead.
“I think it’s good,” Yoshihara said. “We are confident and looking forward to the next tournament.”
The next tournament in which UCLA will compete as a team will be the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate beginning Oct. 20 in Alpharetta, Georgia.