A season that started in transition ended in arguably one of the most special state golf championships in Torrey Pines history.
Three returning starters and an influx of youth coalesced at the precisely the right moment to catapult the Falcons past heavily-favored Westlake of Thousand Oaks (Ventura County).
Senior Adam Navigato shot a 5-under-par 71 to lead the Falcons to a 358-360 victory over Westlake on an 18-hole course at San Gabriel Country Club on June 1.
“This was a special group,” Torrey Pines coach Chris Drake said. “We’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing golfers come through here, amazing individuals and amazing teams, but this one was the biggest team (championship).”
“At all levels, from the league championship up to the regionals to the state, it was different kids stepping up and all the kids stepping up,” Drake said.
Navigato placed second individually, one stroke ahead of teammate Kaiwen Liu, a junior who fired a 67.
The Falcons championship was their eighth in school history and their first since 2011. The Falcons most recent title came on the anniversary of the program’s first championship in 1976.
To say the Falcons were up against a formidable opponent would be an understatement. Westlake returned five seniors, two of whom are nationally ranked.
“We were underdogs to Westlake,” Drake said. “They were kind of like my (four-time defending state champion) girls teams have been, so it was kind of like going up against ourselves a little bit.”
The Falcons beat an image of themselves by pushing each other throughout the season.
Fierce competition for the final three spots resulted in internal competition.
“We brought in 18 kids including seven freshmen and we struggled literally until the last day to figure out who these last three kids would be,” Drake said.
Among the freshman who made an immediate impact was Gian-Luca Martinez, who made the final cut and shot a 72 at the state championships, the team’s third best score.
Watching Luca excel alongside Navigato, the team’s clubhouse leader, has special symbolism.
“That was the end of an era but also a new beginning,” Drake said.
The new beginning also includes sophomore James Song, who shot a 74.
“The competition we have day in and day out gets these kids ready to face the competition they’re going to see at these tournaments and when they go beyond.”
The competition existed within a team context Drake said, noting everyone on the team pushed and supported each other.
Martinez, senior Noah Henderson and junior Kyoshiro Azumada were among the seven players competing for the final three spots who made the cut.
Sophomore Jonathan Farmer, freshmen Alex Conley, Isaac Rodea and Raymond Li, in the hunt for the final spots until the end of the season, made key contributions too.
“It’s a team championship,” Drake said. “Every single one of the players, the coaches and the families have a part in the championship.”
The experience of winning a championship has left the team motivated to follow the Falcons’ girls’ programs lead.
“It’s going to be an immense help for next year’s team for a lot of reasons,” Drake said. “We’ve got really young group, and they’re hungry.”