After taking care of business at the Palm Beach Regional, the orange and blue went into the national championship as the No. 9 seed. The Gators traveled out west to the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, to compete with 30 other teams and 166 individuals to make men’s golf history as Florida attempts to claim its fifth title in program history. The next few days will decide if Florida will bring it home.
The format of the championship is laid out to stretch to six days. The top 15 teams and nine individuals from non-advancing teams from the weekend (May 27-29) will go on to play a final 18 holes Monday to determine the top eight teams that will advance, as well as a 72-hole individual champion. The team national championship will be conducted in a match-play format with quarterfinals and semifinals Tuesday, followed by the finals Wednesday.
On day one, the Gators started on the back nine all even to par. However, that quickly changed after the second hole when juniors Ricky Castillo and John Dubois collected the first bogeys of the day. Unfortunately for the UF, it wouldn’t be its last.
In a back nine where redshirt sophomore Quentin Debove went on to get five bogeys out of nine holes, only junior Yuxin Lin went through the first nine holes even to par. Florida started the front nine slipping into the rough as everyone but Castillo got a bogey in hole one.
Castillo got a triple bogey.
After round one, Florida was led by Lin who finished the day 4-above par as he started with seven consecutive pars and a birdie on hole 16. The Gators ended the day in the back of the standings, tied for 24th with a total of 300 strokes and 20-above par for the day.
On day two, Florida regained its composure from round one and performed a historic round two as it finished the day with 285 strokes, cutting 15 strokes from its round one total. This round was the lowest round under head coach J.C. Deacon at the national championship, breaking the previous record of 286 in 2016 and 2018.
Flipping the script, Castillo was the only Gator to finish under-par in round two, an improvement from his 11-above par performance in round one. The Yorba Linda, California, native collected three birdies and kept a clean card until a bogey at hole 16. Castillo went 1-under par for the day, only one stroke away from his NCAA championship career-low from round one of last year.
Despite ending the day tied in 25th place after the first wave of teams, the orange and blue elevated 10 spots as the second wave finished round two. Florida now sat tied for 14th place with Oregon and Stanford. The Gators, going into the final day of the weekend, were now in the mix of the advancing 15 and 23 strokes away from first.
Day three was better for the Gators, even before they even took to the course. Florida started the day tied at ninth as multiple teams from the first wave fell out of the top ten. The orange and blue started on hole one, going all even to par.
Redshirt junior Fred Biondi went strong into the first nine, grabbing two birdies on his way to a 2-under par score early. Following him would be Lin, who also went 2-under after nine holes.
Despite a strong performance through the first nine holes by the Gators, they were still only a few strokes away from 15th place due to a case of bogeys in the later holes. Sophomore Tyler Wilkes was no exception to this. The Tampa native started the back nine with three straight bogeys, stopping with a birdie at hole 13.
As the bogeys came in, the orange and blue started to slip with only two holes to complete. They needed to avoid losing their four-stroke lead on the final few borderline qualifying teams to advance.
In clutch fashion, both Biondi and Castillo finished their last holes with birdies and finished the back nine under par. Putting the nail in the coffin, UF advanced to fight again Monday.
Florida finished the weekend with a total of 871 shots and went 31-above par to earn 11th place. It went 6-above par in round three, totaling only one stroke more than in round two (286).
The Gators continue their journey to the finals Monday at 1:11 p.m.
Brandon Hernandez is a student at the University of Florida studying journalism. He is a writer for The Alligator and for PlugTalkSports. You can find most of his work on his Twitter (BranH2001) and on his podcast, “The Courtside Podcast,” on Spotify.