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Kirakossian leads UCLA men’s golf to first NCAA regional since 2019

Freshman Luke Powell and coach Armen Kirakossian stand next to each other on the course. In Kirakossian’s second year at the helm, he has taken No. 6 seed UCLA men’s golf to its first NCAA regional appearance in five years. (Courtesy of Ross Turteltaub/UCLA Athletics)

By Alexis Hinkle

May 12, 2024 7:24 p.m.

This post was updated May 12 at 11:32 p.m.

Bruin golfers came out of the gates swinging in October, collecting multiple team and individual top-10 finishes.

Freshman Luke Powell and junior Omar Morales led the charge and even set program records.

But then they hit a wall, recording their lowest finish in regular-season play since last April, and went on a quick hiatus after wrapping up the fall.

Coach Armen Kirakossian knew, however, that his team could make it far.

“We’re not all playing our best at the same time,” Kirakossian said after their 11th-place finish at the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate Invitational in October. “But our best guys that are playing the best are winning. So if we keep doing what we’re doing, eventually that’s all going to match up, and we’re going to have some really good team results.”

And they did just that.

After placing in the top 10 in more than half of its tournaments, No. 6 seed UCLA men’s golf is sending its best six players to its first NCAA regional since 2019. The Bruins are headed to the Stanford Golf Course and will play 18 holes each day of the three-day tournament.

Morales – who spent his summer at the 123rd U.S. Open – earned his spot in the lineup after leading UCLA in scoring average and tying for third at the Pac-12 championships three weeks ago. The No. 24 golfer in the country didn’t start off with success, though, as he finished tied for 58th in the first tournament of the season.

“That was not what I expected, especially after a great summer,” Morales said. “Since then, I’ve grown, and I’ve matured and have played some really solid golf.”

Even the oldest player in the lineup, graduate student Mason Greene, has yet to play on the collegiate regional stage. It’s been five years since the program has gotten that far – and 16 since winning it all.

Now in their second year under Kirakossian, the Bruins have shown major improvements on the course. They made a six-spot improvement from last year’s Pac-12 championships and picked up new talent in Powell.

The freshman began his collegiate career with four top-10 finishes in five events and won first place in just the second event of the season. Now, he has earned a spot in the starting lineup.

But results and numbers are not all that carry the Bruins’ success. Sophomore Kyle An said Kirakossian has bolstered a previously successful team.

“Historically, we’ve had a very good program in the past,” An said. “Those expectations obviously propelled us to be better and with a new coach and everything. He brought a lot to the table.”

Kirakossian led UCLA to three top-five team finishes in his first year as its coach and since then garnered four more to lead the program to the regional stage.

“I just care a lot. I care about the program, I care about our guys,” Kirakossian said. “I want them to progress and pursue their dreams and get what they want. I try to create an environment that helps them to try to reach their potential to maximize every single day.”

UCLA’s starting lineup – Morales, Powell, Greene, An and junior Pablo Ereño – was picked based on the players’ play and chemistry throughout the season, Kirakossian said. All five players, including a substitute in freshman Luciano Conlan, will have the opportunity to advance to the NCAA championships with a top-five finish.

The last time UCLA advanced to the national stage was in 2018, but Morales said Kirakossian’s arrival in Westwood could lead them to a successful postseason run.

“He’s one of the reasons this team has played so well,” Morales said. “Armen’s a huge part of our success, and he’s a great coach. … Wouldn’t want to have anybody else.”

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Alexis Hinkle
Hinkle is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's tennis, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a reporter on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Hinkle is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's tennis, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a reporter on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats. She is also a second-year sociology student.
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