On a chilly, 60-degree morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the women’s golf team for the orange and blue began its competition as the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Albuquerque Regional on Monday. The tournament would go on for three days as the top women’s golf teams at the collegiate level battled it out on the green to see who would go on to the NCAA Championships at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.
In round one, the Gators performed great as junior Marina Escobar finished the round 4-under par with everyone else following through, as Florida ended the first round close in the top pack behind second-place Texas.The following two days following their round one performance only consisted in frustrating finishes to a close fiery end to their season as the Gators were one stroke away from a championship berth, placing fifth.
On day one, the Gators started the tournament on the right foot as they executed the first hole with all members going even par or better. Escobar and fellow junior Annabell Fuller were performing on a career-defining level on day one, both recording their best under-par rounds of their careers in Regional play.
As Fuller ended the day with a 3-under par on her birthday, Escobar finished day one tied with a tournament-high of six birdies. Four of those birdies were all in the first five holes.
After day the orange and blue found themselves in the mix as they fought for the top spot between Oregon and Texas early in the day. Florida shot even to par with a total of 288 in round one as they placed third behind second-place Texas whose total was 287.
Day two of the tournament was a whole other story. Teams like Georgia and Texas Christian went on a tear to climb into the top four spots, Florida went 8-over par as a team and got a total of 296 shots for the day, dropping to fifth place in the tournament. No Gator would do better than even in round two as multiple bogeys plagued the score cards of all five athletes.
Despite the mishaps, junior Jackie Lucena had a significantly better day. The Chico, California, native finished day two in 74 strokes and was 1-under par until she finished the last two holes with a bogey and a double bogey. Despite finishing 2-over par, Lucena improved from her 79 stroke performance on day one.
Escobar, who finished the day even, kept her individual rankings in the top three as she finished round two with 72 strokes after a much-needed birdie on hole 18. After two rounds, she was 4-under par for the tournament and only trailed behind Oregon's Briana Chacon and Georgia’s Jenny Bae in the individual standings. Exiting day two, Escobar and the orange and blue found themselves in danger of missing out on advancing to the NCAA Championship.
Florida started the final day trailing behind TCU by only one stroke. Knowing that just the top four teams advanced, the Gators needed to overcome their woes in day two to include their names into the advancing few with a season-defining performance. Senior Clara Manzalini began the day with a birdie in hole one, tying Florida with TCU early in the day.
However, by the third hole of the day, consistency with competition began to be a pattern of shortcomings.
Escobar had three-straight bogeys from holes four through six and Fuller received a triple, double and multiple bogeys to go 6-over par in the first nine holes. While everyone struggled through the first nine, sophomore Maisie Filler went even for every hole, keeping the Gators alive as they fell to 10-over par for the tournament and sixth place with only nine holes left.
Filler continued her even streak until the 15th hole, as she got her fifth birdie of the regional. Coming off the hot hand, UF rallied back to stay in the fight.
Lucena went even through eight of the last nine holes and collected a birdie. Manzalini finished exactly how she started round three with another +1 through another nine holes, ending the day 2-over par. Despite Fuller continuing a streak of bogeys late in the back nine and finishing 10-over par, the Gators found themselves in fourth place by two strokes with only two holes remaining.
However, Florida’s momentum was knocked down swiftly under its feet after late mistakes. The last two holes consisted of Manzalini suffering two-straight bogeys, Fuller adding one bogey of her own and Escobar, who had been one of the best players in the tournament, getting a double bogey in hole 17. Her first and only one of the tournament.
At the end of day three, Florida finished with a total of 291 shots at 3-over par. For the Albuquerque Regional, Florida finished going 11-over par with 875 shots total. Just like the start of day three, they were only one stroke away from tying TCU for fourth.
Despite not advancing to the championship as a team, one Gator secured her ticket to Arizona as an individual. Escobar secured her spot after putting up a 1-under par score.
Florida, one of the best D1 women’s golf teams this season, did not advance to the NCAA Championship. The regional marks an end to a season with high expectations, as the remaining Gators will make their way back to Gainesville.
Brandon Hernandez is currently the enterprise sports writer and sports podcast host for The Independent Alligator. He likes long walks on the sidewalk and watching basketball tape in his off time. You can find most of his work @BranH2001 on X and on The Courtside Podcast on Spotify.