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Tuesday April 22, 2014Father Figure: Former Players Pay Tribute to Their Buddy

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Matt Every recalls the first time he was in contention for a collegiate tournament. More specifically, he remembers the internal pressure he felt mounting as he stood at the No. 10 tee, readying to take on the back nine, and wondering what the next two hours would bring.

That’s when Florida coach Buddy Alexander leaned over with a few words.

“Hey,” Alexander told Every, then a sophomore. “No one ever said it was going to be easy.”
 
Every, who shot a 66 and won the Gary Koch Intercollegiate that day in Tampa, relayed that anecdote in reflecting on the news that Alexander, 61, was retiring as UF golf coach after 27 years, eight Southeastern Conference titles, two national championships and sending 31 players to the PGA.

Now in his ninth year on the PGA Tour, Every clings to Alexander's simple words of wisdom like a precious swing thought whenever he sees his name on a leader board. They worked for him in March, to be sure. That's when Every out-lasted Keegan Bradley and Adam Scott to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational (and its $1.1 million first-place prize money) at Bay Hill in Orlando by one stroke.

Call them a calming, settling influence that stuck with Every long after he pulled his clubs out of the Mark Bostick clubhouse.

“It was his way of telling me to bear down and that nobody was going to give me anything ... and I’ll never forget that,” Every said by phone Tuesday after his round at the Zurich Open in New Orleans. “He just had a ton of knowledge about the game of golf. He had a ton of knowledge about the game of life, actually.”

Alexander, several of past players said, was as much about life’s lessons as golf lessons.

A coach, yes, but also a father figure to many of his players.

“I love my dad, but I was 18 years old and going off to college to become an adult,” said six-year PGA vet Billy Horschel, also at the Zurich, where he is the defending champion. “If golf wasn’t going to work out, I needed another path after college and Buddy was the one who really made me realize that.”

When Horschel's first semester freshman grades came across the coach’s desk, Alexander ordered the rookie to his UF office where the law was laid in very simple terms.

No improvement, no tournaments.

“For me, it was an awakening I really needed,” Horschel said. “Buddy told me I wasn’t just a golfer; I was a student-athlete.”

Nick Gilliam, part of Alexander’s last NCAA championship team in 2001, called Alexander his “Golf Yoda.” Yet, he's equally indebted to his UF Jedi master for the knowledge Alexander imparted away from the course.

“First of all, coaches lead by example. Buddy was a great player, so if you didn’t listen to him there was something wrong with you,” said Gilliam, who played professionally for eight years. “He knew how to manage you in golf, but he also knew how to manage you in life. He did that for me and I’ll always be thankful.”

Now a representative with Footjoy, Gilliam deals a lot with junior golfers and often finds himself passing on Alexander’s insights to the game’s youth.

He also has special Alexander memories embedded in his mind.

At the 2001 NCAAs, the Gators did not fare well in the first round and Alexander -- as he always did with plain, no-nonsense talk -- gave his team a stern talking to about the day's performance before turning his attention to the next day’s course strategy. Gilliam was sitting among the top 10 individually and felt he was being unfairly disciplined after a very good day.

He didn't get it.

Alexander, in private, reminded Gilliam that Florida was there as a team.

The Gators stormed the course the next two days on the way to the title.

“Golf at the collegiate level is about team score,” Gilliam said. “I give Buddy all the credit for staying on top of the team, the whole team, regardless of how any individual had performed. It’d be easy to pamper individual guys. Buddy never did that.”

And, boy, did Alexander love to see his players compete.

Every will never forget a certain putt on a misty day in 2006. It was the final hole of his college career -- No. 18 at the NCAA Tournament at Crosswater in Oregon -- and the Gators, on the way to a runner-up finish, were smack in the middle of contention.

When Every rolled in that 20-footer for birdie to put an emotional exclamation point on his career, he thought nobody could be more energized than he was at that instance. That's when turned back to see Alexander, alongside a teammate in the fairway, spiking his umbrella into the ground with approval.

“That was Buddy,” Every said. “A guy’s guy with a huge heart.”

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