The Golden Bears, led by individual champion Max Homa, overtook second-round leader Georgia Tech and pulled away to finish stroke play at 16-under 824.
Cal came into the championship after one of the best seasons in NCAA history, with wins in 13 of 15 tournaments. The program runs self-sufficiently, without any financial support from the university.
“These guys are so much fun to have. I just couldn’t be more proud of this group,” said coach Steve Desimone, in his 34th season at Cal. “It’s just pretty overwhelming in all honesty, and I know that emotion can only last for a little while, because we have got to regroup for (today), but right now, we’re going to enjoy this for at least a couple hours and then we have to get back to work.”
Tournament host Georgia Tech was six strokes back in second, followed by Alabama (833), defending champion Texas (833) and Illinois (835). After that, there was a four-team logjam in sixth place, and with only the top eight teams guaranteed berths in match play, a playoff was held to determine the final qualifying teams.
Arizona State, the leader after Round 1, was among those tied with New Mexico, UNLV and Texas A&M.
Texas A&M appeared to have qualified prior to the playoff, but it was penalized a stroke for slow play and fell into the playoff. The Aggies were then odd team out in the playoff at 1 over after the first hole, while the other three teams were even.
Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins felt his team was robbed when Ty Dunlap was penalized for slow play. In Dunlap’s three-man group, two golfers were penalized while the other was not.
“It was the craziest round of golf,” Higgins said. “They really rallied and I feel earned a spot in match play, and it got taken away from them. I feel like the rules guys dug their heels in and gave a penalty, and we had to live with it. Then, in the playoff, we got beat.”
While California was celebrating and other teams were planning for the playoff, Florida State crept up the board behind Daniel Berger and was tied with the other four teams for sixth at one point. But Berger couldn’t keep up the pace and bogeyed No. 9, his final hole of the day. Bogeys by two other Seminoles left the team on the outside with a 845.
Georgia finished tied for 14th with a 850.
While ending stroke play as the No. 1 seed would have been nice for Georgia Tech, it would not have given the Yellow Jackets much more of an advantage. The key today will be putting together the best of each of the three rounds they have already played.
Coach Bruce Heppler doesn’t foresee any major changes.
“I’m a believer that, if you beat somebody in stroke play, rarely are you going to lose your match,” he said.
Georgia Tech will tee off today at 11:30 a.m. against UNLV. The other pairings are California-Arizona State (10 a.m.), Alabama-New Mexico (12:15 p.m.) and Texas-Illinois (10:45 a.m.).