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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Florida's men’s golf season ends in fourth round of NCAA championship

The Gators fell four strokes short of qualifying for the eight-team match play

Florida redshirt freshman Matthew Kress swings his club during the Southeastern Conference Championships Thursday, April 20, 2023. / Photo by Leslie White
Florida redshirt freshman Matthew Kress swings his club during the Southeastern Conference Championships Thursday, April 20, 2023. / Photo by Leslie White

Texas, the host of the 2023-24 NCAA championships, decided to hold the event at a course no team in the country had seen this season: the Omni La Costa Resort north course. It presented a challenge to all golfers. The course was unfamiliar and contained grasses that Florida hadn’t seen much of in collegiate competition. 

Florida advanced to the fourth and final round of stroke play but failed to place in the top eight to secure a spot in the match play finals. 

UF, like many teams in the field, struggled with the new course early in the first round and posted eight team-bogeys through the first four holes. Though, the Gators started to find their  stride when four golfers parred hole five.

Fifth-year John DuBois made his fourth appearance in the national championships and found his rhythm in the first round with a birdie on hole six. Sophomore Parker Bell followed up with another birdie on six to improve Florida’s score to 4-over.

“[Bell’s] always been a bomber off the tee, and he’s always been very talented,” junior Ian Gilligan said.

Gilligan generated momentum for Florida heading into the back nine with three-straight birdies on holes seven, eight and nine.

Freshman Jack Turner and DuBois built on Gilligan’s success with a fiery start to the back nine. Turner recorded a birdie on hole 10 and a par four eagle on 11 while DuBois sank back-to-back birdies on the same holes. Florida improved its score to 2-over and advanced into the top five.

UF sought a low score in the first round as it reached as high as T1 on the leaderboard following sophomore Matthew Kress’s fifth team-birdie through holes 10 and 11.

The Gators’ hot streak came to an end when Gilligan recorded three-straight bogeys. Kress, who finished the day 9-over 81, recorded five-straight bogeys including a quadruple on holes 11 through 15. 

Bell added two more bogeys through holes 15 and 16, but Florida ended round one in eighth place at 7-over 295 and three strokes ahead of the qualifying cutoff regardless of the rough end to the back nine.

DuBois led the way for Florida in the first round with a bogey-less 3-under 69 finish, good for T3 on the individual leaderboard. 

Florida began round two on holes 10 through 18 and concluded the day on holes one through nine. It struggled with the unfamiliar course and dropped four spots on the leaderboard by the end of the round.

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Turner, Kress and Bell recorded bogeys on the first two holes. Gilligan sank a birdie on hole 10, but Florida fell to 13th after DuBois recorded his first bogey of the national championship on hole 13.

“The last three or four weeks, we’ve relied heavily on our [younger players],” Florida head coach J.C. Deacon said. “They’ve carried us, and that’s not normal.”

The Gators fell out of the top 15 for the first time during stroke play when Gilligan bogeyed hole 12 and DuBois double-bogeyed 14. Gilligan struggled to flip the switch and recorded a double-bogey on 13 to drop Florida to T19.

UF fell to 23rd after Kress recorded a double-bogey on hole 18. Florida made the turn 17-over and recorded 14 team-bogeys and four double-bogeys through holes 10-18.

Florida responded with six birdies on holes one through four. Gilligan accounted for three-straight birdies on holes two through four to reduce Florida’s score to 14-over and push it back into the top 20.

Though, similar to round one, Florida could not finish strong. It bogeyed six times on the final three holes and three times on what seemed to be a tricky seventh hole.

Florida concluded round two 14-over 302. 

DuBois was 3-over through two rounds and in the top 20 on the individual leaderboard.

The other competing teams finished up its second rounds after Florida and many also struggled to establish ground; not a single team in the field of 30 finished below par in round two.

UF managed to keep its head above water long enough to rise to T12 on the leaderboard and three strokes ahead of the qualifying cutoff.

Florida needed to secure its spot in the top 15 to earn the opportunity to advance to another round of stroke play. The Gators could not afford another slow start in round three if they hoped to keep their back-to-back national championship hopes alive.

“This team doesn’t seem to back down, and I haven’t experienced that with a team this young before,” Deacon said.

Kress recorded three-straight birdies on holes two through four to create a spark for UF. Gilligan followed up with three birdies through his first four holes, and Florida started the round 5-under. The Gators improved their overall score to 14-over to rise to ninth place after Bell and Turner also sank birdies.

Florida’s success in the front nine of the third round continued as DuBois went bogey-free and birdied holes six and eight.

The Gators broke back into the top six when Turner recorded birdies on holes two and four. The squad carded 12 birdies in the front nine compared to a mere six bogeys and was 12 strokes ahead of the cutoff at the turn.

While the Gators had their strongest front nine of the tournament, they couldn’t maintain their momentum in the back. 

Hole 10 was a success for Florida as three golfers sank birdies. However, UF’s struggles began when Bell, Kress and Turner recorded bogeys on hole 12. DuBois bogeyed holes 13 through 15 and Bell’s double-bogey on hole 14 pushed the Gators back to 10th on the leaderboard at 20-over.

DuBois recorded a fourth-straight bogey on hole 16 to minimize Florida’s advantage over its 15th place opponent to five strokes.

The Gators executed on the final two holes to secure a spot in the fourth and final round of stroke play as a total of four Gators made par or better. DuBois and Gilligan birdied hole 18 to extend Florida’s distance from the cutoff to seven strokes and solidify its eighth-place 20-over 884 finish.

Gilligan and Kress led UF to a 1-under 287 in the round; both golfers carded 1-under 71 finishes.

Florida competed against the top-15 teams from the previous rounds of competition in the final round of stroke play and began on holes 10-18. It had to place within the top-eight teams to advance to match play rounds. 

Florida started strong with five pars on hole ten, but the team fell out of the top eight when Bell and Kress double-bogeyed 11. 

Kress and Bell combined for three more bogeys through holes 13-14. The Gators remained outside of the top eight but just one stroke behind the cutoff to survive and advance to the fourth round.

The Gators made it back into the top eight after Turner and DuBois holed birdies on 13 and 15. Florida went on to earn three birdies through the final two holes but it wasn’t enough to re-enter the top eight. 

Gilligan and Bell double-bogeyed hole 18 to put UF 26-over and T9 at the turn.

Florida played with intensity on holes four through six. Kress recorded a birdie on hole six to bring Florida closer to qualification. Bell and DuBois then sank back-to-back birdies on five and six to push the Gators back into eighth place at 26-over.

However, UF’s hopes of advancing began to fade away after it posted eight team-bogeys through the final three holes compared to just one birdie. The Gators quickly fell out of eighth place and fell four strokes behind the qualifying cutoff after a tough three-hole stretch on seven through nine.

UF concluded the tournament 29-over 1,181 and placed three spots behind the cut in 11th-place.

“I can’t feel anything other than pride when I think about this group,” Deacon said. “We just couldn’t finish it off, and I know exactly how hungry that’s going to leave this exciting young team.”

Contact Aiden Wacksman at Follow him on Twitter at @aidenwacksman

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