JC Deacon

UF head coach JC Deacon holds a scorecard during the SunTrust Gator Invitational on Feb. 18, 2017, at the Mark Bostic Golf Course.

Alligator File Photo

Although Hurricane Irma looms over the state of Florida, it’s business as usual for the Gators men’s golf team, which begins its season on Friday.

Led by coach JC Deacon, the Gators will travel to Dalton, Georgia, for the Carpet Capital Invitational hosted by Georgia Tech.

Florida is coming off a solid season in 2016-17 that saw it take home five team titles and four individual titles. However, the season ended with disappointment as the Gators lost in the semifinals of the SEC Championship and had an early exit in the NCAA Regional Tournament.

The preseason No. 7 team in the country will look to surpass last year’s end result, and that begins this weekend.

Part of the reason Florida is a preseason top-10 team is the fact that it returns nearly every key contributor from last year’s roster. However, the Gators will have to replace the production of Sam Horsfield, who decided to forego his final two years of eligibility and turn pro. He led Florida in top-five individual finishes during his career, and thus his production will not be easy to replace.

With that being said, the Gators bring in two newcomers: Chris Nido and John Axelsen. The pair of freshmen will be starters in their first career tournament, Florida announced on Thursday.

The other starters are Jorge Garcia, Gordon Neale and Alejandro Tosti.

Garcia recorded two top-10 finishes last year, and his career-best finish is a tie for fourth. The junior is one of several key veterans on this Florida team.

Neale, Florida’s other returning junior, was an All-SEC Second Team member last season and was one of two Gators to play in all 33 rounds.

The Gators round out their starting lineup with Alejandro Tosti. The senior, who was a first team All-American last year, is the defending SEC Champion and is the clear leader of the talented group.

This weekend’s tournament includes seven teams ranked in the top 25, so it should be a good litmus test for Deacon’s team, which has high hopes for this season.

If Florida gets the level of play that it expects from its freshmen, along with similar production from its returners, this could be a special year for the Gators.

You can follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno, and contact him at [email protected].