PALM HARBOR — Nick Gabrelcik has worn a lot of hats around here. He’s worked the driving range, he’s been a standard bearer and caddied in the Valspar Championship pro-am over the years. Growing up in nearby Trinity, this tournament was a chance to see what he wanted his future to be.
This weekend, he will continue to break new ground as a player in the tournament. In his first PGA Tour event, the 20-year-old North Florida junior shot 4-under-par 67 on Friday to pull even for the first two days and make the cut.
“It was awesome. I wasn’t expecting everybody out here to be waiting behind the grandstands to cheer me on. It was just a feeling that I don’t think I will ever experience again because you don’t get a first Tour event (again) and you don’t get a first cut all the time,” Gabrelcik said. “So it’s just really special to me.”
The Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort has been Gabrelcik’s home course for the past six years. His brother, Donnie, who served as his caddie, is an assistant pro here.
“I’ve come up through the ranks here. I’ve done the range on Thursdays and Fridays, I’ve sign held, I’ve caddied in the pro-am. But just to be the one walking inside the ropes and to be able to give a ball to the standard bearer with my signature. That’s what I looked forward to every Valspar week, was just get a pro’s signature, even though I’m an amateur,” the Mitchell High grad said. “So it’s just a cool full-circle moment for me.”
Gabrelcik birdied four of his first five holes of the day to get rolling. He shorted a putt on 10 by about 2 feet and ended up three-putting it for a bogey, but rebounded nicely on 11 with a 9-foot putt for birdie.
“Going into the round I was like, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose, we’re 4 over, so let’s just go out and have fun, maybe it’s the last round, maybe it’s not,’ " said Gabrelcik, who is on spring break this week. “Got the putter going early, made four birdies my first five holes and was like, all right, let’s just keep it together, let’s not play defensive now, but let’s just play maybe a little bit smarter than I was on the first few holes. It’s an awesome feeling making my first cut.”
Gabrelcik finished Friday tied for 40th along with two-time defending champion Sam Burns, among others.
Gronk does golf
Rob Gronkowski has played “about one round of golf in the last six years” but the retired Bucs and Patriots tight end was very excited to party at the Valspar Championship on Friday.
“So I came to the Valspar last year and just had a wonderful time. What’s so special about it is you get to watch some golf, but at the same time, this place is so awesome,” he said. “I was also playing cornhole while watching everyone play golf. So I got to do some activities because I love activities. I won some games in cornhole versus ... some of the Lightning guys, actually I beat them in cornhole.”
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Gronkowski was making an appearance at The Rooftop, the VIP hot spot on the 18th hole. And he was telling stories like only Gronk can.
“I actually never really met any professional golf players ever. I really haven’t. Not in person, no. I met Tiger Woods one time real quick. He was in the big golf tournament up in New England and he was working out at our facility,” Gronkowski said. “He just walked by, and I said, ‘What up, Tiger?’ And he said, ‘What up, Gronk?’ I shook his hand. So that’s the only professional guy I’ve ever met, I’m pretty sure.
“But I did meet Shooter McGavin before,” Gronk said of the villain in the 1996 Adam Sandler comedy Happy Gilmore, played by Christopher McDonald. “Actually, and if you ask me, he’s the No. 1 most professional golf guy ever.”