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Already twice a winner in his first semester of college golf, North Florida freshman Nick Gabrelcik faced his toughest challenge yet. Leading by a single shot after 36 holes of the Ospreys’ home event, The Hayt at Sawgrass Country Club, last March, Gabrelcik found himself grouped with two amateur standouts, Florida State’s John Pak and Clemson’s Turk Pettit, in the final round.
Most fresh-faced collegians would’ve feared that kind of challenge, but not Gabrelcik.
“I beat them the first two rounds, so why not just keep going?” Gabrelcik said of his mindset. “There’s no reason to look at them like they’re going to beat me.”
They didn’t. Despite a triple bogey on the 13th hole, Gabrelcik rallied with three birdies in his last four holes to win by two and clip Pak and Pettit by three.
“If he doesn’t make a triple on the back nine,” added North Florida coach Scott Schroeder, “it would’ve been a runaway.”
What is shaping up to be a rout, though, is the race for the Phil Mickelson Award, which goes to college golf’s freshman of the year. In addition to his three individual titles, which ties Texas A&M’s Sam Bennett for the most in Division I, Gabrelcik has four other top-6 finishes in eight starts. That includes Tuesday’s runner-up finish at the Atlantic-Sun Championship.
After four bogeys on his opening nine in the final round at University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Gabrelcik appeared on his way to a disappointing finish. But just like he did down the stretch at The Hayt, Gabrelcik clutched up and came alive late with four birdies in his final six holes. He nearly jarred his approach for eagle at the last before missing a 15-footer for birdie and coming up a shot shy of Florida Gulf Coast’s Van Holmgren, who birdied each of his final two holes.
“Watching that putt go in to beat me, that lights a fire under me to go win regionals now,” Gabrelcik said.
A few months ago, Gabrelcik would not have expected to be chasing a fourth win so soon. His initial goal entering his first year at North Florida was just to win one event. Admittedly, Gabrelcik, who started playing golf at age 8 because of his older brother, Donnie, and taught himself until his senior year of high school, wasn’t the most accomplished junior.
“I was an average player in my book,” Gabrelcik said. That is, until the summer before his junior year at JW Mitchell High in Tampa, Florida, when he won the Florida State Match Play. The next summer he added a victory at the Florida Amateur Public Links, finished low amateur in the Florida State Open and was later named 2019 Florida State Golf Association Player of the Year.
Gabrelcik describes himself as an aggressive player, saying, “I’m not afraid to hit the shots that a lot of people might not want to hit.” As he started to collect bigger and better trophies, his personal expectations grew aggressively, as well. When he placed fourth last fall at an amateur event at the Golf Club of Georgia, behind only Wake Forest’s Alex Fitzpatrick, former Georgia Tech star Andy Ogletree and Florida State’s Vincent Norrman, and followed with top-3 showings at the Florida State Amateur and New Year’s Invitational, Gabrelcik proved to himself and others that he could hang with the best amateurs in the world.
“That was the eye opener that he’s going to be competing at a really high level,” Schroeder said.
But now Gabrelcik has proven he can beat them – and regularly. He’s currently ranked 57th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and No. 2 in Golfstat, behind only Pak. At one point this spring, Gabrelcik was No. 1 in college golf and is on a very short list of Haskins Award contenders.
“It’s a different feeling because I was never a highly ranked world amateur player,” Gabrelcik said. “When I go on and look that I was No. 1 at one point in Golfstat, it’s definitely a shellshock feeling just seeing my name that high up in the rankings.”
That feeling is quickly wearing off, though. The new goal: fifth and sixth wins.
“He hits it really well, great ball-striker, putts it really well, and just isn’t scared," Schroeder said. "If he has some adversity, he bounces back from it really quickly. He does so much so well.
“In my 15 years I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a freshman have the year that he’s had.”
Not even snow could stop Evansville from capturing its first Missouri Valley Conference women’s golf title.
After Northern Iowa rallied to tie the Purple Aces at 90 over through 54 holes at Bogey Hills in St. Charles, Missouri, Evansville won a one-hole team playoff to earn the league’s automatic bid into the postseason.
“When I met this team after becoming head coach, I could see that they were a confident group about succeeding in this event; not necessarily saying they would win, but confident about their ability to succeed,” said Evansville head coach John Andrews, who took over for retired coach Jim Hamilton after last season. “I am so proud of this team and their effort throughout the tournament. … They played through awful conditions today but came out on top.”
Evansville, which hadn't finished better than seventh in its past 10 trips to conference, swept the conference trophies as senior Sophia Rohleder closed in 80 to win the individual title by two shots at 16 over.
“I remember Coach Hamilton telling me I could be the MVC champion prior to my junior year, but unfortunately it got canceled,” Rohleder said. “That had me believing that anything was possible and winning the first two tournaments this season gave me a lot of confidence. But winning this as a team means so much more; it was unbelievable having our entire team up there receiving the trophy. Everyone worked so hard for this. … I thought this would be my last tournament, but it’s not.”
Augusta’s streak of five straight MEAC men’s titles came to an end on Tuesday in one of the worst possible ways.
The Jaguars, who had yet to lose at conference since Augusta became an associate member of the MEAC prior to the 2014-15 season, were forced to withdraw before the championship even began after someone within the program tested positive for COVID-19.
“It is very unfortunate that we were not able to compete in the MEAC Championship this year,” Augusta head coach Jack O’Keefe told GolfChannel.com. “To have our season end abruptly due to COVID is a huge disappointment. I feel bad for our student athletes as they do not get the opportunity to play for a conference championship and postseason. That is the world we live in today and this pandemic has affected everyone in some shape or form. We will learn from this and move forward.”
Florida A&M ended up winning the MEAC title and earning the league’s automatic bid into an NCAA regional.
College Golf Talk
In the latest episode of College Golf Talk, Steve Burkowski and Brentley Romine recap some of the conference championships that have already wrapped up, look ahead to more and also bring in Golfweek’s Lance Ringler for some bubble/rankings conversation as regional selections approach.
Gaston out at Texas A&M
After two finishes outside the top 10 in the SEC Championship, Texas A&M is now looking for a new head women’s golf coach.
The Aggies’ director of athletics announced on Tuesday that Andrea Gaston will not return as coach of the program.
“After a careful analysis of our women's golf program, we determined that new leadership was necessary in order to achieve the desired results for Texas A&M golf,” Ross Bjork said. “We wish Coach Gaston all the best, and a national search for a new head coach will begin immediately.”
Texas A&M is coming off an 11th-place finish at conference. The Aggies were 13th at the 2019 SEC Championship and failed to qualify for an NCAA regional in each of Gaston’s two seasons after leaving USC, where she led the Trojans to three NCAA Championships in 22 years.