Despite the presence of a talented group of seniors gunning for their first national championship in their final season, UF's junior golfers might be feeling the most pressure heading into the final tournament of the season.
The No. 6 UF men's golf team will send out the same five golfers that won the NCAA Southwest Regional to represent the Gators in the NCAA Championships starting today in Toledo, Ohio.
Seniors Billy Horschel, Toby Ragland, Will Strickler and juniors Tyson Alexander and Tim McKenney will attempt to win UF's fifth men's golf national title. While this will mark the final event the seniors play in, the juniors might be feeling even more pressure than them as they realize they have a shrinking window of opportunity.
"I think the juniors feel a big sense of urgency because they know they've got three pretty good players in Horschel, Ragland and Strickler that are not going to be part of this team next year," Alexander said.
After the Gators' first tournament victory away from home since 2006 came at the NCAA Southwest Regional on May 14-16, the team seems to be playing its best at the perfect time.
From the outside, it appears as if coaching has a lot to do with that, but coach Buddy Alexander made it clear that this is one aspect of team management that is beyond his control.
"I don't really know how to make a team or player peak at the right time," he said.
Although Alexander can't guarantee the impact his coaching has had on the team, one thing is for certain: The confidence the team has gained from finishing in first place at the regional tournament will prove to be invaluable this week.
"I know that winning will increase the team's confidence, so I think this will have a pretty big effect on us," Alexander said. "It's the first tournament we've won that we haven't hosted in a while."
The team has taken part in an event on the Toledo golf course, where the national championship will be played, for the past four seasons.
The Gators' best finish in the tournament, the Inverness Invitational, was in 2005, when they finished in first place. However, the team's worst finish came in the fall, when UF finished in ninth place.
Nonetheless, UF hopes its familiarity with the course will work to its advantage in its attempt to win its first NCAA Championship since 2001.
"We've got a little more knowledge on this course than you might see from the other teams," Alexander said.
From the way the Gators handled the regional round, Alexander is encouraged by his team's postseason mind-set.
"In a regional, there is pressure because it's a possible end to your season, and when you have the guts to come through in that situation, you have to feel pretty good about yourself," he said.