The Back Nine comes at you after catching my breath (also known as watching The Masters and other sports on my recliner) to get ready for what should be a fun-filled week around Gainesville.
10. It is pretty clear Dan Mullen likes the effort his team is showing in spring practice. He just wants a little more. At his second post-scrimmage news conference Monday, he talked about players understanding how much more they can give. And he’s hoping a big crowd Saturday in the Orange and Blue Game will spur guys to play with vein-popping energy. “If we have a packed stadium,” he said, “you’re going to play harder.” It also seems clear that Mullen has to approach this spring a little differently, which is why none of his players will sit out the game Saturday unless they are injured. And really, who would you sit out? Everybody on this team has something to prove to this new coaching staff. It will be interesting when we go to SEC Media Days in July which Gators will get picked to the meaningless but still newsworthy (is that even possible?) All-SEC teams. Because as we sit here today, this is a Florida football team without any real star power. That certainly will change from September to the end of the season, but who would you put on the first team SEC-wise in a league full of big-time players? It also sounds like the spring is about two things — finding out what everybody can do and building around those talents and building depth. Florida is certainly a work in progress, but that’s the way it is everywhere where a new coach is going through his first spring with his new team.
11. One thing for sure is you are going to hear this a lot — Florida’s bounce back. Because of last year’s disaster, the Gators are going to be a hot topic all summer in terms of how much they can improve from 4-7. CBS Sports had a story on the five teams who will improve the most record-wise and Florida was No. 1 (FSU was fifth). There was a piece on 24/7 that listed players who would bounce back and there were two members of the Florida offensive line — Martez Ivey and T.J. McCoy based on their ratings in Pro Football Focus. Oh, there are others. Because even with a new head coach and better coaching staff and a different energy, it’s still up to the players to play at a higher level than they did last year. College football may be a coaches’ game, but coaches are only as good as the guys suiting up. I’m in the show-me state of mind with the offensive linemen. Yes, everybody is back, but they have to show me they are better before I’ll believe it.
12. The Masters never fails to deliver and it was glorious as usual except that the winner wasn’t exactly a fan favorite. You would think that a guy who plays for his United State’s Ryder Cup teams with the fervor of a pass rusher would be a popular player, but the back story on Patrick Reed makes him difficult to root for. I cannot imagine cutting your parents and sister out of your life for any reason. Whether he cheated and stole from teammates at Georgia depends on who you talk to. Whether he was an unpopular teammate at Augusta State is open for discussion. That he is a loner on the Tour seems to be a consensus of opinion. But Reed used the lack of cheers as fuel and turned in a masterful tournament. He was the best player for four days and the harder anyone rooted against him, the better he played.
13. But we wanted Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy and we certainly wanted Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to be in the hunt Sunday. That’s the thing that is different about golf from any other sport — we don’t root for the underdogs. We want a star-studded leaderboard and we did get that and we certainly got some amazing golf. Woods just couldn’t hit his irons and Mickelson drove the ball like he was channeling Seve Ballesteros. I knew I was in trouble with my pick — Jason Day — when he hit his opening drive into someone’s beer. The patron chugged it so Day could identify his ball. That guy is a pro.
14. Florida’s baseball team had a weird weekend in that the opener was postponed AFTER the Gators were summoned to the field and they scored 22 runs in the first game Saturday, then won a thriller in the first game of the doubleheader Sunday and then lost the second game of the twin bill. And all of it was played in really miserable conditions. But when the weekend was over, Florida was alone atop the SEC standings and I’m sure Kevin O’Sullivan will take that. The cold weather didn’t slow down Jonathan India, who is now hitting .429, or Florida’s home run pace, as the Gators are four shy of last year’s total for the entire season. Tuesday they go for the sweep of FSU in Tallahassee before a weekend series with Missouri.
15. Around here, there has always been a philosophy in most sports that you keep trying to get to the NCAA championships and hope you have the right team that particular year to win it all. The more you go, the better your chances. Which is why we should all tip our hats to the women’s gymnastics program, which made the championship round for the 36th time in 37 years. That’s amazing consistency and all of the coaches who have been part of it deserve credit. And this team especially deserves credit for bouncing back from the loss of one of its best gymnasts in Kennedy Baker. It will be an interesting meet in St. Louis and Florida will not be considered one of the favorites, but you never know in any sport. Getting there is the first step. This program has taken a lot of first steps.
16. Florida had plenty of people interested in the vacant basketball assistant coach’s job and ended up with an excellent choice in Armon Gates. Interestingly, his brother Dennis is a coach at FSU. Dennis Tweeted this out on Monday morning — “Today is the 1st/last day I cheer for the #gators. I am proud of my bro @coachagates! But the Gates house is officially divided.” Like that rivalry needed any more juice. And speaking of new coaches, it’s great to see Steve Spurrier back calling ball plays although I don’t think UF’s lousy offenses the last couple of years played much of a part in his decision. He just misses it and was handed a perfect opportunity. Look for some other big names (Rick Neuheisel is next) to follow suit.
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to ESPN’s Darren Rovell — “With Masters win, Patrick Reed’s career earnings jumped to $24.6 million. More evidence of the Tiger Effect. Fred Couples career earnings on the PGA Tour were $22.7 million.” The Golf Channel did a nice piece on how Woods’ win at the 1997 Masters changed everything with TV negotiations and his popularity drove the purses to enormous heights.
18. So you want to go to the gym on Masters Sunday and you realize your headphones are in the other car that your daughter has and your wife finds a spare set of earbuds just when you had talked yourself out of working out and so you come up with a new playlist:
• “You’re Not Like Anybody Else” by Escondido.
• “Whiskey” by Joey Landreth.
• “When You’re Ready” by Tuns.
• “While I was Waiting” by Jim Cuddy.
• And for an oldie, “Slip Kid” by The Who.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.