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Saturday, March 02, 2024

It had been 13 years since the UF's women's golf team found itself in the Southeastern Conference's victory lane.

So Sunday's drive, with the Gators nearly lapping the field to get there, was especially sweet.

"It's about time," coach Jill Briles-Hinton said.

Her No. 5 Gators fired the only under-par round of the SEC Championship Sunday, a four-under 284, en route to the eighth SEC title in program history.

UF paced the field on all three days of the weekend, tying with Arkansas at nine-over 297 on Friday, and shooting a five-over 293 on Saturday to take a five shot lead over the Razorbacks heading into the final round.

Sunday's performance saw that edge swell to a seventeen-shot cushion, as the Gators finished at ten-over, barely within shouting distance of second-place Arkansas.

"It was pretty close at the beginning," Briles-Hinton said, "(but) we were able to put an exclamation point on it."

UF punctuated the program's first conference title under Briles-Hinton with a barrage of 18 final round birdies. No player had fewer than three birdies in her final round, with senior Whitney Myers recording five tweeters and freshman Jessica Yadloczky contributing four on the way to their three-under 69s.

Those scores matched the tournament-low 69 defending NCAA champion Stacy Lewis posted on Friday, but while Myers and Yadloczky couldn't catch the Arkansas star, the Gator without a driver's license nearly had Lewis eating her dust.

Freshman Hannah Yun, who turned 16 last Sunday, carded an even-par 72 Sunday to finish just one shot behind Lewis, alone in second place at one-under for the weekend.

The duo played together on Sunday, and though Yun tied for the lead after her birdie and a Lewis bogey on the par-5 14th, her bogey on the 16th cost the freshman a share of the individual championship.

Still, the SEC title is some birthday present, and Yun was happy to help a team full of veterans finally make it to the mountaintop.

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"They've been through so much," Yun said, referring to the departure of senior Sandra Gal for the LPGA this year and a frustrating run of postseason disappointment.

Briles-Hinton was quick to point to her team's drive and effort up and down the roster.

"It's not about Hannah; it's about the team," she said.

Senior Tiffany Chudy, one of the cornerstones of the team, agreed.

"It changes (things) when you know you have five players who could be on top," Chudy said. "Even when one of us isn't going low, like I did (Sunday), everyone else still can."

Chudy's four-over 76 on Sunday dropped her from a tie for third to sole possession of sixth place, but, as she pointed out, the Gators' depth made up for that - and then some.

Four players, from Yun at second to Yadloczky at 12th, finished in the top 12 for the Gators, and the team's 284 was the fourth-best round in UF history.

"To come out and do that," Chudy said, "we're just thrilled."

The Gators will next play May 8th at NCAA Regionals, the site of which has yet to be determined.

UF's men's team also competed in its SEC Championship this weekend, in St. Simons Island, Ga.

The No. 7 Gators finished alone in fourth at eight-over par but were nineteen shots off the pace of champion and second-ranked Alabama and ten shots behind third-place South Carolina.

"It was a disappointing day for us," coach Buddy Alexander said. "We got off to a poor start and did not putt very well today. I thought we didn't respond well like we could have."

Two-time All-American Billy Horschel led UF, firing a one-under 71 on Sunday to finish at even-par, eight shots behind tournament champion Michael Thompson of Alabama.

The men's team awaits a bid to an NCAA Regional, which would begin on May 15th.

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