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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Florida men’s golf preview: Run it back

Returning the entire lineup from last year’s postseason, the Gators men’s golf team will vie for a national title

Joe Pagdin of The University of Florida's men's golf team competes in the first round of the 2021 NCAA  Cle Elum Regional at Tumble Creek Golf Club in Cle Elum, Wash., on May 17, 2021. (Photography by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)
Joe Pagdin of The University of Florida's men's golf team competes in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Cle Elum Regional at Tumble Creek Golf Club in Cle Elum, Wash., on May 17, 2021. (Photography by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

The Florida men’s golf coach JC Deacon told FloridaGators.com after failing to advance to match play at the NCAA Championships last May that he was already brainstorming ideas of how the team can improve this summer. 

The hot days of June, July and August have since breezed by and now, the team’s first tournament begins Friday as Florida travels to Chicago to compete in the Fighting Illini Invitation. 

With 2020’s postseason run under the Gators’ belt and a lineup that returns every starter from a year ago, the men’s golf team has its eyes set on taking the next step to enter the national conversation.

Flash back

The 2020-21 team bursted with potential but was bogged down by inconsistency. Florida’s postseason lineup only featured one upperclassman, and freshmen Joe Pagdin and Tyler Wilkes played in ten tournaments apiece for the Gators. While the Gators’ youth showcased talent and promise for the future, the inexperience came with growing pains. Florida won two tournaments but failed to crack the top four in any postseason event. 

The Gators stumbled out of the gate in the fall of 2020. They never finished higher than fourth during any tournament before the winter break. Then-sophomore Yuxin Lin joined the team in January from Southern California and helped the Gators find their footing with two straight victories, adding to their youthful brigade. 

What’s ahead

The Gators enter the 2021-22 season with a full summer to provide momentum. The entire roster, after the pandemic canceled the 2020 NCAA Championships, has its first collegiate postseason to draw experience from. Veteran-ladened may not be the best way to describe this team just yet, but their lineup card doesn’t rely on underclassmen anymore.

The standard lineup should center around the same few names Gators fans grew familiar with last year. Ricky Castillo, now a junior, was named to the preseason Fred Haskins Award watch list, given each year to the best male collegiate golfer. 

“We fully expect Ricky to be one of the best golfers in the country this year,” Deacon said. “I know that can put pressure on some guys, but we really feel like he’s put the preparation in.”

Fellow junior Lin will kick off his first full campaign on campus in Gainesville. After a mid-season transition to Florida last year, the chemistry he’s built with his new team will continue to grow this fall.

Pagdin is another name to watch for this season. After winning SEC Freshman of the Year last year, the sophomore from Sheffield, England, will set his sights on a spot among the All-SEC ranks. Wilkes and senior Giovanni “Gio” Manzoni should round out the main five with juniors John Dubois and Fred Biondi contributing  depth as well.

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Expectations rise

The Gators begin the 2021-22 season with the goal of a first national title in two decades. If every member reaches his respective ceiling, they have shown they can compete with the best of the nation’s elite, highlighted by their wins a season ago. Whether or not Deacon can lead his team to those heights is a question that can only be answered on the course.

Contact Carson at ccashion@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @CarsonCashion.

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