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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Planned celebrations and staying positive helps Ian Gilligan lead Florida golf

The two-time SEC Golfer of the Week, 2023 Ping All-American Second Team selection has made an impact as a Gator

Gators junior Ian Gilligan hits a drive at the Gators Invitational on Friday, February 16, 2024.
Gators junior Ian Gilligan hits a drive at the Gators Invitational on Friday, February 16, 2024.

As the golfers slowly made their way across the fairway, it was hard not to look at the one in the middle of the course. While everyone else was quietly lining up their shots, one clearly stood out among the rest, prancing around the short grass.

Junior Ian Gilligan of Florida men’s golf had hit the shot he wanted and was celebrating with a club twirl — probably a planned performance.

His teammate, sophomore Matthew Kress, could do nothing but smile as he watched Gilligan celebrate from further up the course.

“I’m just sitting back there laughing,” Kress said, “He’s like the only kid on our team who literally plans out how he’s going to celebrate when he succeeds.”

Since transferring to Florida this fall from Long Beach State, Gilligan has made his presence known on the course. On top of winning the Southern Highlands Collegiate, he leads the team in almost every statistical category and was titled the 2024 GCAA/SWING U Golfer of the Month in February.

“What he’s known for is celebrating during rounds but it’s not ever in a, ‘Hey, look at me’ way, it’s just a way of pumping people up,” said Kress. “I think especially in golf… you’re always thinking about what could go wrong… but he’s almost the opposite.”

His mindset and the way he carries himself aren’t just what makes Gilligan unique as a player. His energy off the course is a crucial factor to his and the team's success.

“Probably the most underrated part of Ian is how good of a fit he’s been for us off the golf course,” Head Coach J.C. Deacon said. “He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s really funny and has gotten along with our guys really well.”

Deacon also highlighted Gilligan's skill on the course, saying the junior is good at everything and doesn’t have many weaknesses in his game.

“It was probably about an hour or two into the visit, I knew he was a really good fit for us,” Deacon said about recruiting Gilligan, “And, he just loves golf. He’s kind of a golf geek.”

His love of the sport is truly evident in the way he plays and prepares for tournaments.

“My best tournament of the entire season was the Vegas tournament,” said Gilligan referring to his win at the Southern Highlands Collegiate at UNLV. “Going into it, I didn’t really have a ton of expectations… and maybe that was a good thing. When I’m in my best mindset for tournaments I really try and treat it like a normal tournament day.”

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Kress echoed Gilligan’s sentiments about his mindset. Gilligan plays in a very laid-back way and has a lot of fun while doing it, he added.

But it wasn’t always an easy road for Gilligan. He struggled to find his footing in the beginning of his first season as a Gator, with no top-five finishes in the fall and only one finish under par.

“It was definitely a big change for me… I was really excited to be able to start playing at some higher level events,” Gilligan said about coming to UF. “In the fall, I felt like I was working pretty hard and doing the right things, but I didn’t see the results I wanted.”

He kept working, trusting that eventually things would go his way. And once they did, everything started to click.

Gilligan turned his spring season around, starting with a second place finish at the Sea Best Invitational. After a third place finish at Florida’s home tournament, he captured his first win as a Gator at the Southern Highlands Collegiate.

His accolades have only grown since, with two SEC Golfer of the Week awards and a selection to the Spring Haskins Award Watch List in March, one of the most prestigious awards in collegiate golf. It’s presented annually to the most outstanding male golfer and will be announced in June.

Keeping his success in mind, Gilligan is looking forward to the postseason. With just one regular season tournament left, the Calusa Cup, he hopes the team can keep up its impressive play.

“Everyone’s working really hard to not only try and be a part of the team come the postseason,” Gilligan said. “When you’re in the lineup, you want to be able to perform and I think everyone’s really ready for the postseason.”

The Gators will open postseason play April 24 at the SEC Championship. Gilligan and the Gators will then look to earn back-to-back national championships, starting with the NCAA Regionals in May.

Contact Hannah Getman at hgetman@alligator.org. Follow her on X @hannahgetman.

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