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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Column: Hole new outlook

I have to admit something.

Since the beginning of the year I have been guilty of severely underestimating the UC Davis men’s golf team.

When I first spoke to Head Coach Cy Williams in September to preview the upcoming season, I entered the interview skeptical of the team’s outlook without 2010-11’s standout Austin Graham.

Then Williams told me that Tyler Raber — one of the Aggies’ two upperclassmen and arguably their best golfer — would be sitting out the season in order to improve his chances of breaking into the professional ranks, and I thought the team was in a rebuilding mode.

With a roster composed of one junior, four sophomores and three freshmen, it seemed like an ideal year to get the younger golfers some experience, but it didn’t seem fair to expect much from this group.

Sure, Williams told me that their season goal was still to win a Big West Conference Title, same as every other year, but I just figured that was something he had to say.

And as the season progressed, it looked like my instincts might be right.

There were some strong performances mixed in, but UC Davis proved to be inconsistent week-to-week, finishing near the top of some tournaments, and toward the bottom in others.

When the Aggies finished second at the Winchester Classic one week before the conference tournament I still didn’t believe they had a real shot to repeat as Big West champs.

Even when UC Davis took the lead in the second day of the tournament I was not convinced.

And in the tournament’s final day, it happened.

The Aggies fell behind to Long Beach State mid-way through the third round, and I assumed it was over.

I minimized the golfstat.com window I was using to track the tournament, and I returned to work.

It was only when I reopened the window 30 minutes later that I realized the UC Davis had surged to overcome the 49ers, and against all odds had repeated their Big West title.

I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been. After all, the team did take the Big West title three times in the last four years, with the one loss primarily due to a hurt Graham.

The success over the past few season has been a combination of solid golfers and good coaching, but even with all of the success the program has had in recent years, this championship may well be Williams’ biggest achievement yet.

He traveled to a conference tournament with a team that didn’t have a single senior to compete against much more experienced golfers.

And while sophomore Matt Hansen gained substantial experience last year competing in the NCAA Regional and the NCAA Championship, none of UC Davis’ other four golfers had ever even competed in Big West Tournament. In fact, aside from Hansen, the remaining four golfers had a combined total of 12 collegiate rounds-played entering the 2011-12 season.

But none of that mattered at the Big West Tournament. The team faced some obstacles, as it fell behind late on, but the Aggies kept their poise and continued to put the ball in the hole.

With their season on the line, UC Davis tallied a combined eight birdies on the final seven holes in the tournament’s final round. It’s even more impressive that four of them came from sophomore Matt Seramin.

Those are numbers you would expect from a group of seasoned veterans, not a team full of freshmen and sophomores.

Now the Aggies will move on to the NCAA Regional, where last year Hansen exploded into prominence by winning the individual title and earning a spot in the NCAA Championship Tournament.

It seems unlikely that anyone could repeat that feat for the Aggies, or that UC Davis could make a real run for a top national placing, but with the way this season has gone anything could happen.

And I’ve learned my lesson: I won’t be counting the Aggies out again any time soon.

TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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