It was all about the freshmen on Saturday for the Bruins.
Roommates Devon Bling and Eddy Lai – the only freshmen on No. 17 UCLA men’s golf’s roster – combined to shoot 13-under par in the final round of the Jackrabbit Invitational in Boulder City, Nevada, securing a second-place team finish. Bling won the tournament by one stroke at 15-under-par while Lai finished fifth at 6-under.
“I’m not surprised, because (Bling and Lai) both have the ability to play that well,” said coach Derek Freeman. “I’m especially proud of (Bling) for winning his first event.”
Bling shot a 6-under on the back nine Saturday, using four birdies and an eagle in the final holes to pass UNLV’s Shintaro Ban. Bling said his 30-foot putt for eagle on hole 11 gave him the confidence to have a strong finish.
“That was the longest putt I made all week,” Bling said. “I wasn’t really playing where I expected to be playing, but that putt got everything going. … That’s definitely where the turning point was for me today.”
Lai also had four birdies on Saturday’s back nine. He improved his score each round of the tournament, and in the final round he recorded seven birdies compared to just one bogey.
“The first two rounds (I) didn’t play the greatest, but today I just felt something good was coming,” Lai said. “I was pretty happy I (finished in) the top five. I was even happier that my roommate won, which is pretty cool.”
As a team, the Bruins posted an 18-under-par in the final round to boost their total to 30-under, five shots shy of No. 27 UNLV. Freeman said he was proud of his team’s performance, but that the Rebels’ 23-under in round three was too much to handle.
“We had a chance, that’s all we could ask for,” Freeman said. “We just ran into a really hot UNLV team. They played really well.”
Freeman also said he was happy that UCLA returned to form after its 10th-place finish at the Southern Highlands Collegiate earlier this week. In that tournament, the Bruins did not have a golfer finish among the top 20 individuals, but this weekend UCLA placed all five of its scorers in the top 13.
“We’ve played five events in the last four weeks, and that’s a lot,” Freeman said. “You can tell that the guys are a little tired. But overall, I’m happy that they bounced back and they gave themselves a chance to win.”
Senior Tyler Collier and sophomore Hidetoshi Yoshihara tied for 11th at 2-under-par, and junior Cole Madey finished 13th at 1-under.
But Bling and Lai carried the load for UCLA.
“It was just a matter of time before they had that opportunity,” Freeman said. “And I expect a lot more of that from them, because I think they both have that type of game.”
The Bruins will have three weeks to rest before their next event, the 3M Augusta Invitational at the Forest Hills Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, beginning March 31.