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Saturday, April 20, 2024
<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-9153f907-7fff-2b88-3e04-7b35b2468e36"><span>Men’s golf coach J.C. Deacon said he was pleased with the way his team is trending and scoring this season.</span></span></p>

Men’s golf coach J.C. Deacon said he was pleased with the way his team is trending and scoring this season.

The Gators were never supposed to seriously contend this weekend.

After a lukewarm performance to open the season earlier this month in Dalton, Georgia — and three freshmen earning spots in the starting lineup this weekend — Florida’s young core seemed to stand little chance competing against collegiate golf’s crème of the crop at an esteemed major championship venue.

But the No. 25 Gators played consistent golf all weekend and left Chicago on Sunday with something they had yet to see so early on in their revenge season: progress.

Florida finished in a respectable seventh place at 20 over out of 15 programs this past weekend at the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational. The young squad can return to Gainesville with a validated confidence that it can contend with the nation’s best.

At the close of Friday’s first round, the Gators were in eighth place, carried by a one-under 69 from freshman Quentin Debove and an even 70 from junior John Axelsen. The results served as gratification for coach J.C. Deacon.

“I love the way our team is trending,” the sixth-year coach said in a release following the first day of play. “Our scores are getting closer to what we are seeing at home.”

Deacon’s words were affirmed over the final 36 holes, when the historic North Course at Olympia Fields showed its championship prowess amid 25 mile-per-hour gusts.

His Florida squad managed to hold its own in Saturday’s second-round action, firing a 294 and staying tied for eighth on a day that witnessed several elite teams and individuals stumble down the leaderboard. Axelsen was again brilliant, finishing with a second-consecutive two birdie, two bogey loop around the North Course.

The final round proved to be no less difficult. The winds returned, and so did the high scores across the board. Yet, Florida produced its best 18-hole total of the week (281), tying No. 3 Georgia Tech and No. 14 Texas A&M for the lowest of the day.

Freshman Ricky Castillo, who struggled to get anything going across the first 36 holes, found a spark en route to a career-best 2-under 68 to crack the top 25 individually. Axelsen finally made more putts, posting a final-round 67 that earned him a runner-up finish overall.

Given that 10 of the 15 teams in the field this past week were ranked, including three of the top five according to the Bushnell Golfweek Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Gators fared well among their elite peers. Florida’s squad, which featured three freshmen, finished higher than No. 1 Texas and No. 4 Oklahoma State, among others.

Not bad for a team that couldn’t advance past NCAA regional play four months ago.

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“We have so much room to improve and our freshmen are learning those lessons fast,” Deacon said. “We are only going to get tougher, more comfortable and more confident going forward.”

Follow Jack Braverman on Twitter @jack_braverman. Contact him at jbraverman@alligator.org.

Men’s golf coach J.C. Deacon said he was pleased with the way his team is trending and scoring this season.

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