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Team effort sends Florida to surprising NCAA berth

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The proud Florida men’s golf program was in such disarray last season that JD Tomlinson was the Gators’ lone representative at NCAA regionals, as an individual.

In came head coach J.C. Deacon, who brought a new energy and team-first attitude, and it paid off in a big way Saturday at the Chapel Hill regional.  

A No. 7 seed thought to have little chance without its second-best player, Florida shot 6-under 282 on the final day to move safely from the cut line to fourth place and book a ticket to the NCAA Championship later this month. 

“Coming up big when you need to,” Tomlinson said Saturday, “there’s no better feeling in sports.” 

With standout freshman Alejandro Tosti back in Gainesville recovering from viral meningitis, the Gators cobbled together a complete team effort at Finley Golf Course.

Florida’s opening 281 matched its best round of the year, and the Gators backed it up with a 282 on the final day.

How to explain it?

“It’s just coming up clutch,” Tomlinson said, “and being mentally tough enough to handle the situation.”   

Tosti’s replacement, freshman Ryan Celano, shot 69 in the opening round to put the team on the board early. A.J. Crouch, who skipped most of last year as he battled mononucleosis and a lack of desire to play competitively, tied for ninth. But it was Ryan Orr, the team’s No. 4 man, a player so frustrating because he’d shoot low numbers in qualifying but fail to bring it to tournaments, who came through when the Gators needed him most. After shooting 43 on his closing nine Friday, he rebounded with a team- and career-best 68 Saturday to help secure one of the five team spots. 

“He’s been on the brink,” Deacon said. “The guys know how good he is, and to show up on the biggest day of the year is just amazing.”