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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

At the end of its up-and-down fall season, UF men's golf coach Buddy Alexander said his team "played pretty well" at the Callaway Golf Collegiate Match Play Championship.

This came just three weeks after Alexander tarred the entire fall as "pretty mediocre," saying, "I think we probably need to readjust our expectations, our dedication to getting better."

In a press conference earlier this week, Alexander pointed to two-time All-American Billy Horschel's absence as a prime reason for the Gators' "pretty average" fall. His absence was following his participation in the Walker Cup as a member of the U.S. team, an experience the coach termed unbelievable.

"You take your first guy out and plug in your sixth guy, you're clearly not going to be quite as good," Alexander said.

However, the No. 10 Gators have shown Alexander something in their long layoff since the late October end of the fall slate.

At that same Monday media session, Alexander said, "The spring will be a lot better. I'm pretty confident of that."

That's high praise for a Gators team whose supposedly disappointing fall still has them ranked No. 10 in the Golfworld/Nike Division I Coaches' Poll and No. 14 in the computerized Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.

In fact, only one team playing in this weekend's SunTrust Gator Invitational has a higher ranking than UF. Duke is ranked No. 9 in the Golfworld Poll and No. 8 in Golfweek.

In addition to Horschel, a junior who has been fighting the flu of late, sophomore Tyson Alexander, junior Will Strickler, senior Manuel Villegas and junior Toby Ragland will try to begin the spring with a win in UF's home tournament, which tees off Saturday morning at the Mark Bostick Golf Course.

On the women's side, if its surprising fall season was keyed by experience, similar success this spring might come from a youth movement.

The Gators came into the fall with high hopes, returning four driven seniors, including two-time All-American Sandra Gal, from a 2006-2007 campaign that left all with a bad taste in the mouth. All they did in the fall was win the Mercedes-Benz College Classic and finish no worse than fifth in a highly competitive schedule of stroke play events.

But Gal is gone now, electing to go pro early after enduring the LPGA's "Q" School in November and earning a full-time spot on the professional tour.

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Freshman Jessica Yadloczky is now the Gators' No. 1, leading a pair of seniors, Tiffany Chudy and Whitney Myers, a pair of redshirt sophomores, Ornella Jouven and Brittany Nelson, and another freshman, a newcomer this spring, Hannah Yun.

Yun would be precocious if she were only the No. 3 player on the team as a freshman. But she also happens to be 15.

When asked if expectations change for the spring without Gal, head coach Jill Briles-Hinton's reply is short and sweet: "They don't."

"We're still the team to beat in the SEC," Briles-Hinton said. And as for NCAA dreams, "If you get in the top ten, it's anyone's ballgame."

Still, Briles-Hinton knows replacing a top player could be tough.

"My biggest concern is the dynamics," she said.

Chudy thinks the team chemistry is as good as ever.

"Hannah, it doesn't matter what her age is, because she's such a hard worker. That part has blended in very quickly."

Factoring in ability, drive, and perhaps a bit of luck, the senior can see a successful season. "There's no doubt about it: This team can win (an NCAA Championship)," Chudy said.

"I can easily see us holding the trophy at the end of the year," she said.

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