SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Florida put itself in difficult positions all season, none more dire than its deep hole against rival Florida State in the national semifinals.
The experienced Gators consistently found ways to dig their way out and it helped them when things got tight Wednesday in the championship match.
Individual NCAA champion Fred Biondi beat Hiroshi Tai 1-up with a par on the 18th hole and Florida won its fifth men’s golf national title with a 3-1 victory over Georgia Tech at Grayhawk Golf Club.
“These guys are extremely tough, and that’s what champions are,” Gators coach J.C. Deacon said. “They find a way to stay positive and to stay in the moment and keep doing the right things.”
“Winning this as a team means so much more than winning this individually,” Biondi, a fifth-year senior from Brazil, told the Golf Channel.
Florida appeared to headed toward defeat against FSU on Tuesday in the semifinals, only to rally for a 3-2 victory.
UF’s Yuxin Lin won the championship match-play opener 4 and 3 over Christo Lamprecht, but the remaining matches went down to the wire in the strongest wind of the week.
John DuBois closed out Connor Howe 1-up to put Florida up 2-0. Georgia Tech’s Bartley Forrester then beat Matthew Kress on the second extra hole after blowing a 2-up lead with two holes left.
Biondi had a 1-up lead after a conceded birdie on the par-4 17th, then Tai’s second shot from the left rough on 18 plugged in the greenside bunker. He hit to about 10 feet, but Biondi two-putted from 35 feet to become the first player to win individual and team championships in the same season since Oregon’s Aaron Wise in 2016.
“This means way more,” Biondi said. “I promised ... when I first got to school that I would work as hard as I could and try to bring a ring or two, and we did it.”
Florida’s Ricky Castillo led Ross Steelman 1-up on 18 when Biondi secured the Gators’ first national title since 2001.
That 2001 team was led by former UF standout Nick Gilliam, who like Biondi also claimed the individual championship that year. The Gators’ other titles came in 1968, ‘73 and ‘93.
“I am certainly the luckiest guy in the whole world,” said Deacon, in his ninth season at Florida.
Georgia Tech’s bid for its first national championship fell just short, leading to a fifth national runnerup finish — first in match play.
“There’s not a better group of student-athletes in college, I know that for sure,” Yellow Jackets coach Bruce Heppler said. “They did a lot of good stuff and will keep coming back again.”
After losing an early 2-up lead, DuBois won his match on 18 with a par after Howe hit his second shot well left of the green and pitched off the green.
Forrester appeared to be in control of his match, going 2-up after his tee shot on 16 hit the flagstick and dropped to 2 feet for a conceded birdie. Kress stayed alive when Forrester three-putted from 25 feet on 17, then sent the match to extra holes by hitting it to within a foot for birdie on the long par-4 18th.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
After matching pars on No. 10, Kress hit his tee shot on 18 left into the desert and was forced to take a drop. He took a double bogey, and Forrester won it with a two-putt bogey.
Lin took advantage of Lamprecht’s wild drives and made the turn 4-up after birdie on No. 8. A couple of bogeys by Lin allowed Lamprecht to cut the lead to 2-up, but Lin curled in a birdie putt to win the 14th after hitting his tee shot into the left rough.
Lin closed it out by getting up and down for par from a tough spot right of the 15th green after Lamprecht’s three-putt bogey.
Steelman struggled early, but erased a 2-down deficit with pars on Nos. 9 and 11. He then took his first lead of the match with birdie on No. 12.
Castillo had a chance to win the 15th, but his putt slid by the hole and the fiery senior kicked his ball into the desert. He tied it on 16 when Steelman hit well short of the par 3 and took a bogey.
Steelman hit his tee shot way right into the desert on No. 17 and ended up taking a drop on the 14th tee, leading to bogey that put Castillo 1-up before the championship was decided ahead of them.
“Matches were tight all the way through the end, and they made some birdies on 17 and we didn’t,” Heppler said. “That was really the difference.”
By JOHN MARSHALL
• • •
Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.