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Monday May 27, 2013Gators Seek Regional Repeat Performance

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- How bad was the Florida golf team the first day of the Southeastern Conference Tournament last month?

The Gators hacked away so poorly, they finished dead-last after that first round at Sea Island in Georgia. J.D. Tomlinson had a nine on the 18th hole and shot the third-best round on the team. Eric Banks carded an 81. Florida went to the clubhouse 26 shots off the lead.

The hole UF dug itself was so deep that even some pretty good golf in the second and third rounds -- including low team score on the final day -- could only pull the Gators to a 10th-place finish in their league.

“Don’t make me think about that, OK?” Coach Buddy Alexander said.

OK. Instead, Alexander and the Gators would rather think about how they played last weekend at the NCAA South Regional, when UF stormed to a 10-shot lead on Day 1, then led by eight after Day 2, before eventually getting run down by second-ranked Alabama to finish second.

Florida's players didn't need affirmation they were pretty good, but they needed to shake that conference tournament hangover.  

“What happened at the SEC was a fluke. We’d never played that bad. It was weird and it’s not going to happen again,” senior T.J. Vogel declared. “How we played at regionals is who we are. We are that good.”

Which begs the question: Which version of the Florida golf team will show up for the NCAA Championships when the Gators tee off Tuesday at Capital City Club in Woodstock, Ga.?

The spring season has been a fairway of undulations for Alexander’s squad, with just one tournament title (in the first event of the year), a couple seconds and a bunch of fourths or worse. Injuries and illnesses have held the team back at times, but the Gators are riding the confidence of their latest performance -- pushing the Crimson Tide at regionals -- and hoping it carries through the first three rounds at NCAAs; enough to get UF, seeded 10th in the 30-team field, into the final eight, where the format switches from stroke play to match play.

“And anything can happen in match play,” Alexander said.

Look no further than three years ago when two teams, Arkansas and Texas A&M, neither seeded in the top 10, faced off on the final day for the national title.

The Gators, especially with veterans like Vogel and fellow senior Tyler McCumber motivating in playing the final events of their orange and blue careers, know they’re capable of stringing together enough rounds to leave them in the mix.

And now, after torching the course for the first two rounds at regional, UF’s player know they can strike with the best in the country -- California, Alabama, UCLA, Texas and Washington enter as the top five seeds, respectively -- should they reach match play elimination.

The Crabapple Course at Capital City is a 7,137-yard course that puts a premium on ball-striking, which happens to be one of Florida’s strengths.

“You finally saw it come together at regionals,” McCumber said. “The hard work finally paid, and it just feels like everybody is really positive right now.”

So much that the ugly 21-over is a distant memory, they swear ... even though it was just six rounds ago.

“I never lost faith, never stopped believing that this team was better than we played all semester,” Alexander said. “We had a little adversity that maybe chipped away at our ego, but I wasn’t down. Obviously, the best thing that happened to this team all year long was that first round at regionals.”

Duplicating that performance, or even coming close, would be the best thing that could happen to the Gators this week.


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