2015-16 College Preview: New class, attitude at Florida

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 9, 2015, 2:00 pm

Florida coach JC Deacon prides himself on getting to work early. A few days after returning from the U.S. Amateur in Chicago, he pulled into the team’s practice facility in Gainesville at 7:35 a.m. and was stopped by one of the cart guys.

“Do you know who that is right there?” the man asked Deacon, pointing to a solitary figure on the range, beating balls. 

“Yeah, that’s Blake Dyer,” Deacon replied. “He’s a freshman. You can introduce yourself.”

“Well, he’s been here since 5:55,” he said, heading back toward the pro shop.  

Deacon smiled, because that meant Dyer was logging a two-hour practice session before his first class of the day.

No, these aren't your typical college newcomers. 

“When you don’t have to chase the guys and tell them to work harder,” Deacon says now, “it sets the tone for everybody else.”

Deacon never lacks for energy or enthusiasm, but he’s been looking forward to this class, to this week, to this first event ever since he was named the Gators’ 15th head coach on June 14, 2014.

2015-16 College Preview: Top 10 men's teams | Men's players | Women's teams

A former Canadian Tour player, Deacon, 33, took over for Buddy Alexander, the legendary coach who in 27 years won two NCAA titles and eight SEC Championships, and oversaw the development of 31 PGA Tour players, including Chris DiMarco, Billy Horschel and Camilo Villegas.

It was time for a change. The Gators hadn’t seriously challenged for a NCAA title in nearly a decade, and in 2014, Alexander’s last year, they placed 12th at SECs and failed to reach nationals for the first time since 2000. 

The program was scuffling, and of greatest concern to Deacon in those early days was that he might not be able to retain assistant coach John Handrigan, who was being pursued by other top schools. After all, the two coaches barely knew each other, but Handrigan figured to be a key figure in the Gators’ future success, having established relationships and earned verbal commitments from Sam Horsfield and Jorge Garcia, two of the top prospects in the high school class of 2015.

“That uncertainty was probably the most stressful part of it,” Deacon said, “because then we would have had to start all over again.”

Handrigan agreed to stay, and together they formed a vision for what they wanted the program to become.

Their first task? Repairing the splintered relationships within the team. 

“I didn’t like the energy,” Deacon said. “I didn’t like the way the guys were treating each other. It was really difficult, and there were some pretty big issues – some tears and fighting and all of that good stuff. We really just focused on the relationships and building a team again.”

Not much was expected of the Gators, and they played like it too, finishing second-to-last in their season opener and stumbling to another poor finish against a strong field at Lake Nona.

What helped assuage the concerns in town was that Florida had landed arguably the best recruiting class in the country, built around Horsfield, a decorated amateur and English protégé of Ian Poulter, and Garcia, who moved from Venezuela when he was 12 and quickly became one of the most sought-after juniors.

They proved to be strong recruiters, as well: Horsfield introduced Deacon to Kyler Tate, one of his close friends and a highly regarded prospect out of Winter Garden and then Garcia helped convince Gordon Neale to spurn SMU and sign with the Gators.

Before long, Florida had amassed a super class, with three of the top-15 juniors, and four of the top 40. It was the college golf version of the Miami Heat’s Big 3 – an orchestrated attempt by close friends to join forces and try and win championships.

“That was one of the things that was really important to me,” Horsfield said, “being around people I know and really good players. I have that at Florida.” 

Of course, the team back in Gainesville felt the buzz, was asked endlessly about the incoming class, read the stories about another big-time junior victory, listened to the coaches talk about how good the Gators were going to be … and began to feel like they were left behind.

Finally, during the winter break, JD Tomlinson, a graduating senior, walked into Deacon’s office and spoke up.

“We just feel like you’re waiting for next year and that class,” he said, “and not focusing on what we’re doing now.” 

After that meeting, the Gators turned around their season and notched a couple of runner-up finishes, but they were dealt another huge blow late in the spring when their best player, Alejandro Tosti, was hospitalized because of viral meningitis. They were thought to have little chance of advancing at regionals, where only five of 13 teams move on, but they challenged for medalist honors before settling for fourth and an NCAA berth.

Those 20-year-olds who didn’t like each other, barely talked or hung out? Now they were laughing and celebrating and hugging each other behind the 18th green. 

“Seeing that,” Deacon said, “was one of the best moments of my coaching career.”

Sure, the Gators were overmatched at nationals, but merely reaching that point, with that group, and without Tosti, exceeded Deacon’s expectations “by a million miles.” 

And so, on June 2, the day after their NCAAs were over, it was time for Deacon and Co. to move forward.

He started an iPhone group chat that included all of his players – the promising freshmen, the established returners – and they chatted all summer, congratulating each other on strong performances in amateur tournaments and hyping up the year to come.

“By the time they got here,” Deacon said, “the seniors and older guys felt like they’d known them forever.” 

Dyer may have been the only player on the range at 5:55 that morning, but soon he was joined by Horsfield and Garcia, who were late arrivals after the U.S. Amateur. The older players have followed suit too, realizing that their roster spot is no longer guaranteed. 

“They’ve had a bit of a wakeup call,” Deacon said. “These kids mean business and they want to achieve the highest level they can. This is what we all wanted.”

So is this: On Friday, when the Gators open their season at the Carpet Capital in Georgia, they will start four of the heralded freshmen. A new era has begun. 

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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”