UCLA men’s golf earns 7th-place finish in windy Southwestern Invitational
Coach Derek Freeman (left) looks on as graduate student Devon Bling (right) goes for a swing during the Southwestern Invitational. Bling sat in first place after day two of the tournament but fell 12 spots on the final day of play. (Courtesy of Eric Hurd/UCLA Athletics)
By Austin Tran
Jan. 28, 2022 2:54 p.m.
A Bruin’s farewell season started off marred by final-day course conditions.
Kicking off coach Derek Freeman’s final winter season, UCLA men’s golf finished in seventh place in a field of 12 teams at the Southwestern Invitational from Monday to Wednesday. After ending the first two rounds at one over par, the Bruins carded an 11-over-par total on the final day of play. As a result, they slid two spots, finishing 42 shots behind the winner, Arizona.
Freeman said his team’s performance in the final round was affected by wind gusts and a failure to adapt.
“The biggest thing that we can attribute it to was that the weather was much different (Wednesday),” Freeman said. “It was windy from the very beginning, all day long, golf course dried out. … We just didn’t do a very good job adjusting.”
Graduate student Eddy Lai was UCLA’s leading scorer in the event. He carded a 3-under 213, good for a tie for eighth place. Unlike his team, Lai shot his lowest total on the final day.
Following Lai was graduate student Devon Bling with a closing 7-over 79. After leading the pack entering Wednesday, Bling slid down 12 spots into a tie for 13th place.
“I just didn’t have it and didn’t have my best stuff,” Bling said. “It’s just golf, and it’s just one of those things where now all I can do is put it in the past and work even harder.”
Coming off wrist surgery in the offseason, Bling added that the week’s invitational reassured him that he can put himself in contention to win a tournament.
Bling said his surgery sidelined him from the fairway for two months.
“This was my first tournament back from (wrist surgery) and to be leading the golf tournament after two rounds was definitely a positive note,” Bling said. “Moving forward, I know I can do this, and I did it with limited practice. In my mind, with proper practice, … I think I can do something really special this spring.”
The Bruins have six remaining events before they head off to the Pac-12 championship in Washington in April.
Finishing third and fourth on the team were redshirt sophomore Alvaro Muller Baumgart Lucena and freshman Pablo Ereño Perez. The Spaniards shot totals of 8-over 224 and 12-over 228, finishing in a tie for 37th and 45th, respectively.
Rounding out the lineup was freshman Evan Chien. In the first tournament of his collegiate career, Chien scored a 3-over par on Monday and a 2-over par Tuesday before closing the tournament with an 11-over par on the final day.
In a tournament televised by the Golf Channel, Chien said he was worried ahead of his debut but received reassurance from his teammates.
“I was pretty nervous because I didn’t really know what to expect for my first event,” Chien said. “(I) saw all these great players that I would see on TV. It was intimidating, but it was important that I just stick to my own game.”
With the wind gusts, UCLA’s holes eight and nine saw the most strokes lost on the final day. On hole eight, all Bruins except Lucena made a double bogey.
Freeman said the wind on the tee box felt different than down at the green on hole eight. The 15-year coach said it was a long par 3 with water in front, leaving a lot of players between clubs.
“It was definitely apparent that we had some nerves for the first tournament,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to do a better job at handling that, and I think the guys will do that.”
Despite the high-scoring final round, Freeman said he is confident the team has the ability to rebound the rest of the season.
“Our games are trending in the right way,” Freeman said. “The guys are getting better, and if we continue to improve week after week, we’re going to be in good position to get better as we go through the season.”