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UCLA men’s golf beaten by Arizona in The Copper Cup championship

Junior Pablo Ereño hits the ball on the course. (Courtesy of Pac-12)

By Connor Dullinger

Jan. 17, 2024 3:06 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 18 at 12:01 a.m.

It was a tournament of firsts for the Bruins.

In a two-day tournament spanning Sunday to Monday, UCLA men’s golf competed in The Copper Cup – its first tournament of the new year – at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa, Arizona.

The Copper Cup featured three other schools: USC, No. 19 Arizona and No. 6 Arizona State. On the first day of the tournament, UCLA beat USC by a score of 9-2, while Arizona conquered Arizona State in both single and alternate shot matches. The Bruins and the Wildcats – the winners of the first round – faced off in the championship, but the former ultimately fell to the latter 7-5.

This was the Bruins’ first appearance in The Copper Cup, which is traditionally a clash between the state rivals in Arizona. But this year, the crosstown rivals in Los Angeles joined the Arizona schools.

Coach Armen Kirakossian – who coached at Arizona State before joining UCLA two years ago – said he has been eager to bring his new team to the tournament.

“I always enjoy being back in Arizona. It was amazing to bring UCLA to this tournament,” Kirakossian said. “I was hyping it up to them, and I was a little worried I might have overhyped it a little. At the end of the day we loved it, and it was a great experience to bring UCLA out there.”

Several Bruins also added that Kirakossian provided strategy and insight on how they should mentally and physically prepare for the tournament.

“Coach was super helpful. He had been around several of the good match-play players. He continued to tell us to do our own thing,” said redshirt senior Alvaro Muller. “One thing he preached was to not play the man. Instead, you are meant to play your own game.”

In addition to UCLA’s first appearance in The Copper Cup, it was also a tournament that featured a unique play style many Bruin golfers had not experienced.

The Copper Cup featured a hybrid style of play that combined single matches with alternate shot matches. Despite unfamiliarity with the tournament style for several Bruins, they found success in the alternate shot matches. UCLA took all three alternate shot matches in the contest against USC and continued to dominate on that front by taking 2 1/2 points of the four possible points in the final contest against Arizona.

Throughout the tournament, the Bruins leaned on each other to gain leverage against their opponents. According to freshman Alex Papayoanou, he and Muller were able to utilize each other’s strengths and weaknesses to be successful.

“I loved playing with Alvaro. We work very well together. I took most of the tee and chip shots while he hit a lot of the irons and putts,” Papayoanou said. “I was really impressed with how we played together, and it was something I didn’t imagine doing.”

While many Bruins had not played in a tournament that featured an alternate shot style, Muller and junior Pablo Ereño had experience playing this style from matches back in their home country, Spain. Muller said his experience overseas allowed him to give insight to his teammates.

“I tried to tell my teammates to be patient because it is so hard to find your rhythm when you only hit a shot every 30 minutes,” Muller said. “It is also important to find a partner that has a game style that tailors well to your own.”

Despite failing to claim The Copper Cup championship, Kirakossian added that the Bruins are a “hungry” group, and they are always looking to make strides in the right direction to compete for a national championship.

“We just need to continue to build our confidence. We continue to put ourselves in positions to win a tournament, and each time, we have gotten a little bit better,” Kirakossian said. “It is challenging to win in golf, and you can’t cheat the system, so we are going to take our knocks and keep coming back. Eventually, we will come through.”

The Bruins will continue the spring season Jan. 29 when they will take part in the Southwestern Invitational.

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Connor Dullinger
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