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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The men’s and women’s golf teams hold intriguing potential heading into the fall season. Both teams are coming off national championship appearances and returning many of the same players, .

The biggest loss for the men’s team, which was eliminated on day three of the national championships, is Andy Zhang, who turned pro after his sophomore season.

Zhang had a phenomenal season last year, winning the SEC Individual Championships and the individual title at the Kissimmee NCAA Regional, earning First Team All-SEC honors and becoming a finalist for the Fred Haskins Player of the Year Award. The Gators also graduated Alejandro Tosti, who had four top-25 finishes last season.

Two players to watch on coach J.C. Deacon’s squad heading into the fall season are senior Gordon Neale and sophomore John Axelsen, two of three returning players who had at least one top-five finish last season.

Neale tied with Zhang for the most top-10 (4) and the most top-25 (7) finishes last season, and he had the second-lowest stroke average in school history (71.48). Axelsen joined the team for the spring season and excelled immediately, earning All-SEC Freshman Team honors.

Neale and Axelsen will be joined by five other returnees along with a pair of highly-regarded recruits in Aden Ye and Eugene Hong. Ye was ranked second in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings at the time of his signing, won the 2016 Nanjing Open. Hong, on the other hand, has been ranked in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings as high as 13th and 27th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.

The women’s team also returns much of the same roster that finished 21st in the national championships last season, graduating only Taylor Tomlinson, who had five top-25 finishes.

One reason why the women failed to advance in the national championships last season was a lack of elite play in the tournament. No UF player finished in the top 30.

That might change with returning junior Sierra Brooks. Brooks, who finished 35th at the national championships, was easily the team’s best player last spring after joining team via transfer from Wake Forest. Brooks won two tournaments last season, including her debut with the Gators at the Florida Challenge, and she was the team leader in stroke average (72.03, the second-lowest in school history) and top-10 finishes (4).

Brooks and junior Marta Perez should create a dangerous combination for the Gators this upcoming season. Brooks stole the headlines last season, but Perez wasn’t too far behind, either. Perez had the lowest round total last year (66), tied Brooks for the most top-10 finishes and had more top-25 finishes (8) than Brooks (6), though Perez competed in four more tournaments.    

Jenny Kim and Clara Manzalini are the newest additions to the women’s squad. Kim was a 2017 AJGA All-American as well as a two-time state champion. Manzalini, joining the Gators from Milan, Italy, has experience with the Italian women’s national team.


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