By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
College of the Canyons men’s golf won its second consecutive CCCAA State Championship in dramatic fashion.
The Cougars squeaked by Saddleback College by just two strokes to secure their victory.
The championship was in hand for COC before one of their best, Dominic De Luca, hit water on the 18th hole of the second round. De Luca missed the mark on another shot and suddenly the Cougars’ 5-stroke lead was gone.
Kieran Bye would save the day for COC. The Bath, England, native came up clutch and eagled on the final hole to seal the deal for the Cougars.
“It was cool to watch,” said Cougars’ head coach Gary Peterson. “The whole team was there, we knew he could take three putts from 30 feet and we’d win.”
Bye knocked in a 1.5-foot putt to ignite his spectating teammates and finish with a team-best 141 on 36 holes.
The team handled adversity well, especially in a tough end stretch of the season where the playoff teams played two rounds of 18 holes on the day. Peterson was amazed by his team’s focus as they finished on par after 36 holes in the CCCAA State Championship.
Peterson believed this team, full of characters, was another good team but was unsure if they could get to the promised land.
“At times they drove me nuts, more so than other teams,” said Peterson. “There were some strong personalities, maybe because I’m older, I’m less pliable. I was confident that the team was a good team but I truly did not see this coming, I did not see them rising to this level.”
All competing teams faced tough schedules starting with about a 4:30 a.m. wake-up, quick breakfast, warm up at 6 a.m. and teeing off the first round at 7 a.m. The teams then get about 10 minutes for lunch before diving into the second 18 holes.
“It’s physically and mentally demanding,” said Peterson. “But we seemed well balanced. Everyone was playing well.”
COC’s Hugo Amsallem faced one of the biggest obstacles during the championship run. Amsallem finished his 36 holes at the CCCAA state championship before heading straight to the airport to head back to France for his club championships. The sophomore had about 18 hours to tee off on the other side of the world in his home country, after he won the CCCAA with the Cougars.
Peterson made it clear to his team at the beginning of the year, if they didn’t win a state championship, the year was not successful.
The head coach has been the helm for COC golf for 38 years and has led the men’s golf team to 10 state titles, nine of which came since 2000. Peterson has also led the women’s team to four state championships.
The Cougars have a very large roster with 28 players, just the way their coach likes it.
The golfer group that started in the state championship — Magnus Hansen, Jordan Allaire, Leo Cheng, Amsallem, Bye and De Luca — came through for their team but have the other 23 golfers on the team to thank for their level of play.
“We start with a large roster every year, it’s very competitive to play in a match,” said Peterson. “I think if competition internally in the team is just tough as the competition outside the team, the team will be stronger. I know the internal competition makes these guys want to play their very best.”
The team would fight for spots all season as the lineup fluctuated and 15 different golfers started for the Cougars.
“Most teams have about 15 guys,” said Allaire. “Having 30 guys made it more competitive, which made us better. Being in the state championship, it didn’t feel like that much pressure ‘cause we’ve had that pressure all year.”
The diverse group of golfers featured talented players from all around the world. Golfers from Japan, England, Belgium, Netherlands and France to name a few, came to COC for a chance to play on one of the most competitive community college teams in the world.
“I wanted to join a winning program,” said Allaire. “You see a lot of wins, you see a lot of state championships, you want to be a part of it.”
The team in turn typically transfers a ton of golfers to Division 1 and 2 schools.
The Cougars had a strong year, losing just four matches. The team was on pace to win the Riverside Invitational before Amsallem was disqualified for losing a ball. The team lost one of its best and took on Bye’s score, pushing them back to sixth.
Peterson noted Bye as one golfer who made the most improvements over the year. The Englishman struggled at times with the driver and had a bad outing at Riverside. Then he turns it on at the end of the year and clinches the state title for COC.
Their final loss in the season came in the SoCal CCCAA Regionals, where Canyons finished third. The team was just one stroke behind the two top teams, Cypress and Saddleback College.
However, COC would get the better of both the next week in the state championship.
Peterson is expecting another competitive, championship-aspiring team that will return at least four golfers next season and a few others ready to turn pro.
The head coach might not have seen this coming at the beginning of the season but he can walk away pleased from yet another season as a champion.
“They impressed me,” said Peterson. “At the end of the day, I walked away impressed with the team we built.”