Depth lifts Torrey Pines to 8th straight CIF golf title; Cathedral Catholic rallies for Division II win
Earlier in the season longtime Torrey Pines boys’ golf coach Chris Drake called his 2023 team “perhaps the deepest we’ve ever had.” Strong words from someone whose teams have won 13 of the last 14 section crowns, including a current streak of seven straight.
Drake’s Falcons made those words ring true last Monday, May 15, at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, earning an eighth consecutive CIF Championship (Division I) while overcoming the type of trials and tribulations that would likely have overwhelmed a lesser group.
After staking themselves to an 11-stroke lead in the previous Wednesday’s (May 10) first round at Steele Canyon Golf Club, the Falcons were able to extend their overall advantage to 13 strokes over second place Cathedral Catholic (the Division II champ) and a whopping 41 strokes over the closest Division I foe, San Marcos.
That they did it with a hobbled defending individual titlist, senior Phillip Kench, playing at significantly less than full capacity and junior star Jay Leng disqualified while leading the tournament early Monday, May 15, made it all the more impressive an accomplishment.
A rolled ankle suffered during a training session just prior to the start of CIF play doomed Kench’s shot at going back-to-back and he carded an uncharacteristic pair of six-over scores. Leng was eliminated by an inadvertent procedural infraction. With the championship run potentially in jeopardy and the margin for error significantly narrowed, Drake was thrilled to see the other four players in his lineup rise to the occasion.
“I believed from the beginning of the season that this could be the best team I’ve ever had and the deepest, one through six,” said Drake. “The numbers and quality really came into play today. They dealt with adversity, maintained focus and played pretty darn well, all things considered.
“Golf is an individual sport but these guys were like baseball players rallying around a pitcher (Leng) out there on the mound by himself. If he’s struggling, the other guys are going to tighten themselves up, concentrate and step up their games a little more.”
Junior Colin Li led the charge for Torrey Pines. On a day when just six of the 98 players in the field broke par, he posted a two-over 74 which, coupled with a three-over at Steele Canyon, was good enough for a sixth place individual finish.
All finishing in the top 21, his four senior teammates, Matthew Broder (+9/T9th), Taiki Marsh (+11/T17th), Kench (+12/T20th) and Josh Chung (+13/T21st) provided ample support.
Li, for one, acknowledged that the loss of Leng created a new dynamic. “It definitely had a different feel out there today, it was more than an individual thing, more playing as a team,” Li said. “I kind of told myself that my score really counts today and I’ve got to do everything I can to help this team win.”
He collected four birdies for the round and was sitting at even par before taking a double bogey on the closing hole with the team verdict already in hand.
“This course was challenging, particularly the greens,” said Li. “They’d been punched recently and are not in their best shape right now.
“I was kind of fighting a mental battle with that and my putting was up-and-down. But the driver was great—I don’t think I missed a fairway with the driver.”
The overall win sends Torrey Pines to the CIF Southern California Regional, May 24, at Serrano Hills Golf Course in Chino Hills. The top three schools emerging from that event qualify for the CIF State Championship scheduled for May 31 at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach.
Drake, always cautious, bordering on superstitious when it comes to looking ahead, had not made any plans (lodging, transportation, practice times) in regard to the Regional, preferring to “wait until the ink is dry” on the CIF results. But with his squad comfortably positioned over third place Classical Academy, even he was able to lighten up a bit as TP’s final player, Li, sprayed his approach shot on 18 well wide of the green.
“Hopefully he doesn’t get a 22 on this hole,” smiled Drake, alluding to the gap between his team and a third place overall finish, “because that could hurt us.”Joining Torrey at Serrano Hills will be Cathedral Catholic which rebounded from a 16-stroke first round deficit to finish eight strokes up on runner-up Classical Academy, winning the Division II banner and grabbing San Diego’s second regional berth.
Seventh-year head coach Joe Filippone, who guided the Dons to their first CIF Regional tourney in 2021 was matter-of-fact when asked if his team’s results in round two were unexpected.
“No, I wasn’t surprised,” said Filippone. “We just had a pretty ordinary day at Steele Canyon in the first round and it seemed like we played up to our potential today.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt that he had two sophomores—Trevor Cox and Michael Riebe—playing like seasoned veterans at the top of his roster. Cox and Riebe were seven and nine strokes behind first day leader Daniel Chazen, a Classical Academy freshman, when the field teed off at La Costa. Chazen and Leng, the only two golfers to beat par at Steele Canyon, were separated by one stroke.
When Chazen ballooned to 10-over on La Costa’s Legends Course and Leng was DQ’d, the door swung open for the rest of the field. Cox and Riebe charged through. Riebe racked up four birdies on the front nine and finished with a four-under 68, going one-over for the Championship. Cox was again solid, missing a birdie putt at 18 to win it in regulation but shooting a 70 to match Riebe at one-over for 36 holes. San Pasqual senior Connor Williams came in with the same score, setting up a three-way playoff for individual honors.
The two Cathedral golfers holed matching birdies to dispatch of Williams on the first playoff hole. The Don duo then played three more holes before Cox, following a birdie miss by Riebe, sank his own short birdie putt for the section title, putting his alongside names of past victors like Craig Stadler, Scott Simpson, Phil Mickelson and Xander Schauffele.
“I’m very lucky to have two sophomores who are really good golfers,” said Filippone. “It’s awesome to have two guys finishing as part of a three-way tie for first place.
“Even when we were 16 down after the first day, they never stopped believing we could be one of the two teams at the SoCal Regional. They grinded all weekend, came out and shot pretty well today when it counted.”
Rounding out the scorers for the Dons were Santiago Garza and Erik Jorgenson who tied for 17th at 15-over par and Cole Newsom, tied for 55th at plus-22.
Now it’s on to the Regional for the two local schools. With its potent top two, Cathedral can be expected to make some noise but the sheer volume of high quality golfers on the Torrey Pines side make the Falcons a legitimate threat to prevail in the team competition. Torrey has won the CIF State tournament four times (2004-2010-2016-2018). Li was not hesitant about voicing his team’s ultimate ambition.
“Honestly, I think that this year we haven’t ever all clicked at the same time,” said Li. “It seems like there’s always someone playing real well but always someone who’s below what they’re capable of.
“If we all click at the same time, we have a really good chance to go all the way. We have a team that can win not only the Regional but the State Championship.”
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