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Tuesday, December 07, 2021
<p>Sophomore Andy Zhang is tied for first heading into the final day of the NCAA Kissimmee Regional. He's at 8 under with freshman John Axelsen just behind him at 7 under. </p>

Sophomore Andy Zhang is tied for first heading into the final day of the NCAA Kissimmee Regional. He's at 8 under with freshman John Axelsen just behind him at 7 under. 

When Florida opened its season at the Carpet Capital Invitational in Dalton, Georgia, over a month ago, it had one major underlying problem: a lack of well-rounded team play.

Since then, however, sophomore Andy Zhang and freshman Won Jun Lee have stepped up and put up solid numbers for the Gators.

Senior Alejandro Tosti won the Gators’ first tournament at 11 under, but the team finished tied for fifth. In part, that was because Florida’s second-lowest scorer in the tournament was 15 strokes worse than Tosti.

For reference, every team that finished above Florida on the leaderboard, with the exception of fourth-place LSU, had a margin of 14 strokes or less between its first- and fifth-place finishers. So the gap between UF’s best and second-best contributor is wider than other teams’ best and fifth-best contributor.

Coach J.C. Deacon knew that UF needed stronger performances all around to win tournaments like this.

“To have a winner of the event, and the team to finish fifth, that’s not good enough for our standards,” Deacon said after the tournament.

The Gators followed up a disappointing team performance in Georgia with an electrifying outing at the Trinity Forest Invitational in Dallas.

Deacon decided to put Zhang into the lineup before the tournament, and it paid immediate dividends.

He finished tied for third at 6 under for the tournament, one stroke behind junior Gordon Neale, who finished second. Tosti finished at 1 over for the tournament, but the performances by Zhang and Neal were enough to bring home a victory for UF.

Zhang’s top-three performance in his first outing of the year impressed his head coach.

“(Zhang) is a phenomenal kid,” Deacon said. “He works so hard, does the right things, and he’s earning his confidence the right way through hard work, and I love to see that.”

Lee had a similarly strong outing in the last tournament, the Nike Collegiate Invitational in North Plains, Oregon, leading the way for the Gators as he tied for 14th overall. Zhang also tied for 27th at the event.

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Although the team finished fifth in Oregon, there were certainly positive takeaways.

The field in Oregon was highly competitive; Deacon said that it was possibly the most talented group of teams the Gators will have to play against all season, and for the second week in a row, young players stepped up despite Neale and Tosti not playing their best.

“The young guys are the key,” Deacon said. “They’ve shown a lot of mental toughness and they want to fight for their spots. That’s going to be huge moving forward.”

In order for Florida to improve, it needs solid numbers out of young players in addition to strong rounds from leaders like Tosti and Neale.

So far, the Gators haven’t been able to achieve both in the same tournament. But Deacon says that when they do, they’ll be one of the top teams in the country.

“Absolutely,” Deacon said. “When we get five guys going, it’s going to be scary.”

You can follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno, and contact him at tnettuno@alligator.org.

Sophomore Andy Zhang is tied for first heading into the final day of the NCAA Kissimmee Regional. He's at 8 under with freshman John Axelsen just behind him at 7 under. 

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