Sweet Redemption for University of California Trio

Cal Bears Story

University of California golfers Michael Kim (left), Max Homa (center) and Michael Weaver are carrying on the Golden Bears' remarkable season at this week's U.S. Open. (Copyright USGA/Hunter Martin)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Weaver, Homa, Kim Reach Merion After NCAA Disappointment

By David Shefter, USGA

ARDMORE, Pa. – An anxious Michael Weaver was glued to a computer screen as “Golf’s Longest Day” – known more commonly as U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying – neared its conclusion on June 3.

Having already secured his spot in the field by virtue of finishing runner-up to Steven Fox at last summer’s U.S. Amateur, Weaver was hoping a couple of his University of California teammates could join him at Merion Golf Club.

The Golden Bears were coming off arguably one of the great seasons in collegiate golf. Despite a semifinal defeat to Illinois in the match-play portion of the NCAA Championship at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course, California had won 11 of 13 tournaments leading into the year’s final event. Over the 54 holes of qualifying for match play, Cal had bested the 30-team field by six strokes, with senior Max Homa claiming the individual championship for his second win in four weeks. Homa had also won the Pacific-12 Conference title, shooting a course-record 61 at The Los Angeles Country Club.

But 48 hours after the stinging 3-2 loss to the Fighting Illini in which the deciding match went to the 20th hole with 2011 NCAA champion Thomas Pieters beating Homa, three of the five Golden Bears were at sectional qualifying sites in Georgia and California, trying to qualify for the U.S. Open.

“I was sweating it pretty good,” said the 22-year-old Weaver, who stayed at his uncle’s home in Atlanta after the NCAAs.

Michael Kim, a four-time winner in 2012-13, was joined by teammate and 2012 U.S. Amateur semifinalist Brandon Hagy at Hawks Ridge Golf Club in Ball Ground, Ga., while Homa flew home to Southern California to compete at Newport Beach Country Club and Big Canyon Country Club.

“I was dying,” said veteran Cal coach Steve Desimone. “We were locked in on every conceivable means of communication.”

Kim, 19, of Del Mar, Calif., was the first to qualify, sharing medalist honors at 11-under 133. Hagy faltered with three bogeys down the stretch and finished four strokes off qualifying.

By then, Homa, 22, of Valencia, Calif., had been informed of Kim’s achievement. Just before he headed  out for a 3-for-2 playoff for the final qualifying spots, Homa called Kim. Two holes later, Homa had earned his Open spot.

Records aren’t kept on such matters, but it is believed to be the first time three players from a current college team have qualified for the same U.S. Open.

It didn’t completely take the sting off the loss to Illinois, but it definitely softened the disappointment.

“One way or another, it’s an incredible story,” said Desimone. “It’s just one more statement of how great this team has been.”

Here’s how dominant Cal was in 2012-13. The Golden Bears won 11 of 14 tournaments and all five regular starters won at least one individual title. Kim led the way with four victories, while Homa and Joel Stalter of France, the long Golden Bear not to qualify for U.S. Open sectionals, each won twice.

“It’s pretty unheard of,” said Kim. “It was an awesome year.”

Kim took the most circuitous route to Merion. Less than 24 hours after the semifinals, he flew from Atlanta to Columbus, Ohio, to receive the Nicklaus Award at the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament as the college player of the year. That afternoon, Kim was back on a plane, returning to Atlanta for sectional qualifying the next morning.

Along with Weaver, Kim then traveled to the Palmer Cup at Wilmington (Del.) Country Club, helping the USA collegians record a dominating 20.5-9.5 win over Europe.

“I’m probably one of the few people who have met Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. [Arnold] Palmer in such a short amount of time,” said Kim. “It has been a busy two weeks.”

Homa, a quarterfinalist at the 2010 U.S. Amateur, also produced a storybook finish to his senior season. But it took a phone call to Jim Ahern, one of Cal’s equipment representatives, before everything came into focus. Homa was having doubts about staying an amateur through the summer in order to make the USA Walker Cup Team. Ahern told Homa not to worry about the process and just enjoy the ride.

Homa broke through for his first outright collegiate win at the Pac-12 Championship. A few weeks later, he was the NCAA champion.

“My head is just in a better place,” said Homa. “I think that’s always important.

[My confidence] is at an all-time high. I don’t think it can be understated about how I feel about my game. Obviously, there’s no way to prepare for [the U.S. Open]. But I am playing well and I know I am playing well.”

Of the three Cal players in the Open, Weaver carries the most experience, having competed in the Masters this past April. Although he missed the cut at Augusta National, Weaver learned a valuable lesson about handling his nerves on one of golf’s biggest stages.

Weaver discovered last August he can adjust to playing in front of large galleries. He had a strong performance at Cherry Hills Country Club, upending Patrick Rodgers, Justin Thomas, Ricardo Gouveia, Zachary Blair and Albin Choi – all highly ranked players – en route to the U.S. Amateur final, where only a 5-foot lip-out on the 36th hole kept the Fresno, Calif., resident from hoisting the Havemeyer Trophy.

“That gave me a lot of confidence,” said Weaver of his U.S. Amateur run. “I never felt like I had any easy matches. I think that was pretty cool.”

So is having two teammates at the U.S. Open.

Bill Weaver, Michael’s father, said the Cal trio might not fully fathom the accomplishment for several years. But it’s a fitting way to conclude a special season.

“It’s really cool,” said Homa. “I love my team so much. To get to share this with those two [guys] … I’ll never forget that.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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