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Wednesday May 16, 2012Tomlinson's Turnaround Provides Gators a Boost Entering NCAA East Regional

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – J.D. Tomlinson III and the game he has played since he joined the golf team at Gainesville's Oak Hall School in sixth grade have made up.

Their reconciliation started over winter break when Tomlinson, a Gators freshman, began to pay the game more attention than he did during the fall season.

The relationship has blossomed from there, and on Monday during a U.S. Open qualifier in St. Augustine, everyone got to see how well Tomlinson and golf are getting along these days.

Tomlinson fired a tournament-low 65 – just a shot off the Marsh Creek Country Club record held by professional Fred Funk – to advance to a U.S. Open regional qualifier in June.

Tomlinson will be back on the course Thursday morning in the NCAA East Regional aiming to help the Gators advance to the NCAA Championships.

"I feel good about my game right now,'' Tomlinson said Wednesday night from North Carolina. "I like how I'm putting. I like how I'm swinging right now. It just makes me feel good that I kind of know where I'm at with my game.

"Hopefully I can take it out there and show it."

The Gators practiced Wednesday on a soggy Grandover Resort East Course in Greensboro, N.C. Florida coach Buddy Alexander is confident the Gators are playing well enough collectively to keep their season alive. The top five schools advance to the NCAA Championships.

A big part of Alexander's confidence comes from the way Tomlinson has turned his freshman season around.

Tomlinson, one of the few Gainesville-area players Alexander has had on the roster during his 25-year tenure, didn't move far away for college. Still, the adjustments he had to make made it sometimes seem like he moved from Alaska.

In his first two college tournaments Tomlinson failed to crack the top 50. By the time the spring season rolled around he had to earn his way back into the lineup.

Since he teed off in the first round of the Charleston (S.C.) Southern Invitational in late February, Tomlinson has been one of the team's most consistent players at No. 3 in the lineup behind No. 1 T.J. Vogel and No. 2 Tyler McCumber.

Tomlinson has two top-10 finishes and a pair of top-20 showings in his last five tournaments.

"From the start to now, I've gotten a lot better as a player and I think a lot of that is solely from Buddy, just being around him,'' Tomlinson said. "He has helped me manage the golf course, [work on] some different shots, minor swing things – basically everything, little things every day."

Tomlinson grew up on the course at Gainesville Country Club, just a few miles from UF's campus. His father, J.D. Tomlinson II, played golf at Southern Illinois. When it was time for college, Tomlinson decided to stay home in part because of his love of the Gators, especially those back-to-back national championship basketball teams he watched at the O'Connell Center in middle school at Oak Hall.

He had other college options to play in college, but when Tomlinson showed interest in the Gators, Alexander held the door open.

Alexander is glad he did. Tomlinson's turnaround has been a huge boost for the Gators entering the postseason.

"He has played some terrific golf this semester,'' Alexander said. "He's been a big part of our improvement. He didn't have a great fall, but he's bounced back. I don't even look at him as a freshman anymore.

"He went through those growing pains a little in the fall. Obviously, he's learned a lot."

Alexander didn't blink when he saw what Tomlinson did on Monday in the U.S. Open qualifier.

"I wasn't surprised by it at all,'' he said. "Sixty-five is a pretty catchy number. The fact that he was low by four was a pretty good feat."

Tomlinson, not the longest hitter off the tee, will try to use the same formula at this week's NCAA East Regional: keep the ball in the fairway, take wise approach shots, and let his putter do the rest.

After shooting a 1-under par on the front nine Monday, Tomlinson fired a 6-under on the back nine due to steady approach shots and a hot putter.

The par-72, 7,100-yard Grandover Resort East Course is the next challenge. Since the inception of regional play in 1989, the Gators have advanced to the NCAA Championships in all but one season.

Tomlinson wants to do his part to make sure the storyline stays the same.

"The goal is to always win – as a team and as an individual,'' he said. "I played very poorly in the fall. I think that was just due to adjusting to college and a whole new life. I regrouped over the winter break and coming out in the spring I felt pretty good about my game. I thought I could do some damage."

He has.

 

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