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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Gators men’s golf doesn’t show full potential in fall

The team was unable to crack the top three of any tournament Florida competed in

<p>Florida men&#x27;s golf head coach JC Deacon and his squad wrapped up an underwhelming fall slate with four finishes no higher than fifth.</p>

Florida men's golf head coach JC Deacon and his squad wrapped up an underwhelming fall slate with four finishes no higher than fifth.

Conversely to the women’s golf team at Florida, the Gators men’s team entered the 2021-22 campaign with the expectation of national recognition. A team that finished just short of the final round of the national championship last spring, the lineup was labeled as one with elite talent and sturdy depth.

After four tournaments  in the fall season, it’s fair to say that those expectations haven’t been met, as the team failed to finish higher than fifth in any tournament. 

Ranked as the No. 33 team in the country, the Gators were unable to secure a top-three finish and went 1-3 in the match play tournament the team competed in. While there is still a full offseason and spring competition before the postseason, the outlook on Florida heading into the spring is less optimistic than entering the fall.

The elite talent that Florida hoped to boast entering the season was supposed to come in the form of junior Ricky Castillo. Castillo reached the final round of the national championship individually as a sophomore and appeared primed for an elite junior season after receiving a PING All-American Honorable Mention nod last year. 

Despite the hype, the Yorba Linda, California, native has been unable to find the rhythm that led him to a 4-0 record at the Walker Cup this summer. Castillo will enter the spring still looking for his first top-25 finish; his highest finish in the fall was at the opening tournament, the Fighting Illini Invitational, where he placed 39th with a 9-over 219. 

At the SEC Match Play Championship, Castillo went 2-2 in his four matchups, arguably the highlight of his fall campaign. The junior’s history, with multiple wins as a freshman two years ago, tells fans a higher ceiling of play is there, and head coach J.C. Deacon offered his support toward the junior and what he needs to work on..

“Getting his life organized is important and just getting a clearer picture of what he has to do with his golf swing,” Deacon said. “I think the break came at a really good time for Ricky, and we’ll have our superstar back in the spring.”

Junior Yuxin Lin was the one highlight in the Gators fall lineups. After transferring into the program from Southern California and starting with the team last January, Lin has emerged as a standout piece in Florida’s lineup. He earned the sole top-15 finish of any Gator through the four tournaments with a 2-over 212 at the Colonial Collegiate Invitational, finishing in a tie for 13th, showing that he has the capability of being a cornerstone for Florida.

“He’s one of the best drivers of the golf ball that I’ve ever seen,” Deacon said. “He’s a world class player, and he’s going to have a big spring for us.”

One perk that Florida holds over its northern rivals is the weather through the offseason. While some areas of the country will battle snow and freezing temperatures through December, Gainesville will have nearly perfect weather for the entire offseason. Deacon said this weather can lend itself to better practice for his team as they prepare for spring.

“I’m looking outside right now, and it’s just perfectly blue sky, no clouds and perfect practice,” Deacon said. “The rest of the country’s November, December, January is really, really tough weather and it’s some of the best weather for us.”

Despite the lack of results, the team is still confident going into the second half of the season. If the talent the Gators boasted entering the season returns to form, Florida could launch itself into a strong postseason run. Still, the team will need Castillo and Co. to improve their games over the break in order to achieve the lofty heights set back in August.

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“We’re going to use these conditions and our weather to our advantage,” Deacon said. “And hopefully come out at the end of January, there really ready to go and kick some a-- in the spring.”

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

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