Florida overcomes injury, illness woes to qualify for NCAA Championships
Published: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 27, 2013 at 11:34 p.m.
In his 26-year coaching career at Florida, Buddy Alexander's golf teams have somehow managed to avoid the potential season-altering setbacks that no coach can control.
What: NCAA Championships
Where: Capital City Club-Crabapple Course, Woodstock, Ga.
When: Today through Sunday
Format: 54 holes of stroke play, with the top eight teams advancing to match play.
UF lineup: 1. Tyler McCumber (72.38); 2. T.J. Vogel (73.03); 3. J.D. Tomlinson (73.94); 4. Eric Banks (73.75); 5. Tommy Mou (74.67).
Injuries, illness and accidents.
“I've been really lucky through the years with injuries,” said Alexander, whose team opens play today in the NCAA Championships at the Capital City Club-Crabapple Course in Woodstock, Ga. “In 1990, Dudley Hart broke a rib and couldn't play in the SEC Tournament and we got beat in a playoff. Other than that, literally, I've had nothing go wrong from an injury and illness standpoint.”
Alexander's luck ran out this season. The injury/illness/accident bug finally caught up with the Gators.
It started with Eric Banks undergoing open-heart surgery that sidelined him for six months between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Then No. 2 golfer T.J. Vogel sustained a sports hernia injury just before the start of the spring season. No. 1 golfer Tyler McCumber opened the spring season with walking pneumonia. Vogel and others came down with the flu early in the season.
“It's been an interesting season from that standpoint,” Alexander said.
It's a season that has been impacted by illness and injury. The Gators pretty much stumbled through the spring, winning zero tournaments with a best finish of fourth place.
Now, the latest: J.D. Tomlinson's toe. The sophomore from Gainesville has stitches in his right big toe after cutting it on some tile by the family pool. He is expected to be fine for the NCAA Championships.
Here's the good news for the Gators: Other than Tomlinson's toe, the Gators are feeling better and playing better than they have all spring heading into the tournament. UF's luck hasn't been good, but its timing could not be better.
“We've got a couple guys (McCumber and Vogel) playing well at the right time,” Alexander said. “My team is doing OK.”
The Gators did not appear OK a month ago. They seemed in full fade mode after finishing a dismal 10th in the SEC Tournament.
But two weeks after that, in the NCAA Regional in Baton Rouge, the Gators regained their fall form (where they won one tournament and had two seconds) and finished second, easily qualifying for UF's 13th consecutive NCAA Championships.
After their strong performance in the regional, the Gators are starting to feel like they just might have a national championship run in them.
“How we played at regionals is who we are,” Vogel said. “We're that good. We can play with (No. 2) Alabama. We've almost beaten them a few times this year. We know we can play with them.
“We know if we play our game, we can play with the best. We want to make it to match play. We feel confident. Once you get to match play (as one of the top eight teams following 54 holes of stroke play), anything can happen.”
Vogel and McCumber seem to be coming on at the right time. Both finished the regional at 1-under par. Alexander said the play of the two seniors will be critical to UF's chances this week.
“They will be hugely important,” Alexander said. “When you have two really good players like we do, those guys are going to have to play well.”
McCumber seems like a sure thing.
“You can't say enough about Tyler McCumber,” Alexander said. “This guy has been amazing. In his last five postseason events, he's got four top-three finishes. Think about that.
“I don't think there's been anybody at the University of Florida, or maybe anywhere, that's got a stretch of play quite that good.”
McCumber said the Gators are now playing the way everyone thought they would coming out of a successful fall season.
“We were trying to build momentum (this spring) and we finally saw it come together at the regional,” he said. “Everyone's hard work paid off. Everybody is pretty positive. That's how we're capable of playing, if not better. It was nice to finally see it.
“We had some injuries and incidents that set us back a little bit (in the spring). But we're moving in the right direction at the right time.”
Alexander said the spring injuries and struggles will be forgotten if the Gators play well this week.
“Postseason is what it's all about,” Alexander said. “We're going to be measured forever on what we do this week.
“Nobody remembers what happened at the Gator Invitational in 2004. But I can tell you what we finished in the NCAAs that year. This week is what it's all about.”
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