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Thursday, April 25, 2024

For the UF men's golf team, the break between the final match of the fall season and the beginning of the spring schedule is the longest hiatus of the year, longer than the time from spring of one year to fall of the next.

At the SunTrust Gator Invitational this weekend, the No. 12 Gators showed no signs of rust.

Firing on all cylinders, UF romped to a fifth consecutive victory at its home tournament, its five team players combining to shoot 20-under through 54 holes on Saturday and Sunday. UF's cumulative 820 outpaced its closest competitor - Florida State - the only other school under par, by 12 shots.

Coach Buddy Alexander was very pleased with his team's first tournament triumph since this same event last year.

"I think it would be easy to say we always win the Gator and it's no big deal," he said. "But teams have to learn to win and be comfortable in that spot."

Sophomore Tyson Alexander led the Gators' effort, notching a two-under 68 on Sunday to claim third place among individuals for the tournament at six-under, one shot shy of University of Alabama at Birmingham's Zach Sucher and Duke's Michael Schachner, who shared medalist honors.

But a frustrating double bogey on the 18th hole cost him his first individual college victory and rated as the lowlight of a bright day.

"We would like to have had the individual champion," lamented Buddy Alexander, also Tyson's father. "Tyson stubbed his toe a little bit at the end.

"He played beautifully for seventeen holes, and hopefully he'll use that positively."

The coach also noted that the Gators demonstrated their depth, which he called "a blessing and a curse."

Junior Billy Horschel tied for fourth, one shot behind Alexander, while senior Manuel Villegas' one-under tournament tied him for 12th, junior Will Strickler's even-par effort landed him tied for 17th, and even though Toby Ragland struggled to an eight-over 78 Sunday, his 69 and 67 on Saturday made sure he only fell to a tie for 26th.

Freshman Arnond Vongvanij and senior Tyler Brown, both competing as individuals, also placed in the top 10 and top 20, respectively. Vongvanij tied for ninth and recorded the first top 10 of his collegiate career, and Brown earned a share of 19th.

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UF's roster would seem like an embarrassment of riches, but Buddy Alexander is quick to note the drawbacks of having a number of talented players.

"It's nice to have a number of solid players, but we've got to get it down to five," he said. The Gators spent their fall tinkering with their lineup, and at this point, Alexander faces a series of tough decisions in whittling down his roster to the strongest five for SEC and NCAA play.

The win was also against competition Alexander deemed "pretty average," adding, "It's definitely not the best field we'll see. But confidence is built step by step." And his The Gators could use some confidence heading into the John Hayt Invitational at Ponte Vedra Beach's Sawgrass course from February 17-19, where national powers UCLA and Alabama loom.

"We're going to find out a whole lot more about our team next Tuesday afternoon," Alexander said.

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