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UCLA men’s golf showcases depth in tournament despite altered lineup

Junior Pablo Ereño walks on the course. (Courtesy of Eric Hurd/UCLA Athletics)

Men's Golf

The Prestige

11th place (6 under, 846)

By Connor Dullinger

Feb. 23, 2024 4:53 p.m.

Team depth was key to the Bruins’ most recent tournament showing, and a glaring absence set the stage for their ultimate finish.

UCLA men’s golf competed without one of its top golfers, junior Omar Morales, as it finished 11th in a 24-team field at The Prestige on the PGA West Norman Course. Morales, currently ranked 32nd in the individual scoreboard rankings, missed the collegiate tournament to compete in the 2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta Vallarta in Vallarta, Mexico.

This is Morales’ second time competing in a PGA Tour event.

“Competing in the PGA Tour is an amazing opportunity for Omar, but obviously, we missed him this week,” said junior Pablo Ereño. “We had to adapt without him and count on five guys that weren’t him, and, as a team, we performed well and were able to rise to the occasion.”

Morales has proven crucial for the team throughout the year. In the fall season, Morales received national acclaim for his play in various tournaments and was named the SwingU Golfer of the Month in October. More recently, he tied for 28th at 12-under 204 at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii.

While Morales’ absence may have hurt the team in the short run, it helped the Bruins’ depth, as some who may not usually get much competitive playing experience were able to play in a top-ranked field.

“You always want to have the strongest lineup you possibly can, but sometimes it’s good because it allows other guys to step up to the plate and puts pressure on these guys that you can’t simulate in practice,” said coach Armen Kirakossian. “Pablo Ereño stepped up big time and finished top 10 in a loaded field. Experiences like these give him confidence and show that he can compete with the best of the best.”

Apart from playing with a slightly different lineup, the Bruins also experienced challenges in terms of the structure of the tournament – specifically, the difference in time when teeing off over a multiday tournament.

The Prestige is one of the only tournaments that makes two flights: A team plays in the morning one day and the next day in the afternoon.

“You have to adapt when you are playing at different times over the course of a tournament because the winds change as you go from morning to afternoon,” Ereño said. “There was more wind in the afternoon compared to the morning when the top teams played, so this hurt us a little.”

The Bruins also played on a desert course, which is a type of course that they have less experience with, as these courses are not near the Los Angeles area.

While the course was unfamiliar for the Bruins, it may prove beneficial in the long run, as they will have to compete on these types of courses soon.

“The desert course is a different look for us, but it is beneficial because the conference championship will also be at a desert golf course,” Kirakossian said. “It is good for them to get that feeling early; however, it did take us a while to settle in.”

Settling in has been a problem for the Bruins all season, as they have struggled in tournaments to start on the right foot.

The story was not different in La Quinta, as their first round was the Bruins’ worst round. However, Kirakossian sees it as a chance to learn instead of an overall negative.

“While we didn’t execute perfectly, it was a good learning moment for the team,” Kirakossian said.

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