Last May, Florida earned the No. 1 seed at the NCAA Regionals in West Lafayette, Indiana. The Gators seemed poised to breeze through regionals and compete for a national championship.

However, a surprising eighth-place finish ended UF’s season far earlier than the team expected.

Junior Gordon Neale said last season’s disappointment is still in the back of his mind as the Gators prepare for a potential return to the NCAA Championships.

“It still haunts me a little bit,” Neale said. “That was by far the worst day I’ve ever had on a golf course. I just remember how it felt, coming down to those last few holes knowing that we weren’t going to make it to nationals after the season we had.”

This year, the Gators put together another strong fall season and set themselves up with a No. 9 ranking heading into the spring.

But missed opportunities kept their fall season from being even better.

In the first tournament of the year, the Carpet Capital Invitational, senior Alejandro Tosti won the individual title. It was a great start for the defending individual SEC champion, but poor numbers from Tosti’s teammates dropped UF into a tie for fifth despite leading after two rounds.

After that tournament, coach J.C. Deacon called out the rest of his players for not matching Tosti’s low scores.

It seemed to get their attention.

In the very next tournament, a second-place performance from Neale led the Gators to a team victory at Trinity Forest on Sept. 26. They followed the result with a fifth-place finish in a highly competitive field at the Nike Collegiate Invitational on Oct. 3. Florida also discovered the potential of freshman Won Jun Lee, who finished in a tie for 14th and led the way for the Gators on the leaderboard.

At the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational in mid-October — despite not having Lee or sophomore Andy Zhang available — the Gators finished tied for second with the help of freshman John Axelsen and Neale, who placed third and fourth, respectively.

Going into the spring, Neale feels confident that his team won’t repeat last year’s disappointing conclusion.

“I think we’re one of the top two or three teams in the country,” he said. “Our team is better this year than last year.”

And when the Gators begin their spring season at home on Feb. 17, they won’t forget how much last season’s finish hurt.

“It has motivated us to make sure we’re there this year,” Neale said. “To not take anything for granted.”

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