Gators look for spark at SunTrust Gator Invitational

Published: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 8:05 p.m.

Some coaches don’t like the word potential. They say all it means is you haven’t done anything yet.


Saturday's match

What: SunTrust Gator Invitational
Where: Mark Bostick Golf Course (6,701 yards, par 70).
When: Saturday and Sunday (shotgun start on both days at 8 a.m.; Saturday's second round begins at approximately at 1 p.m.)
Format: 54 holes of stroke play (36 Saturday; 18 Sunday).
Field: 14 teams, including UF, No. 8 UCF, No. 11 UAB, No. 21 Vanderbilt and No. 22 FSU)

Well, like it or not, the reality is the Florida men’s golf team has, umm, potential.

The Gators have talent, they’re capable, but they haven’t really done anything yet. That’s OK, acceptable, for a young team, which the Gators are. What’s probably not OK is time is starting to run out on Buddy Alexander’s team.

“Whatever the upside is, they need to reach it quickly,” Alexander said. “We’re halfway through the season and we’ve had one pretty good tournament (tied for third at the Shoal Creek Invitational in the fall) and four that have not been particularly good.

“I’m hopeful it will happen, get a little confidence and get things rolling and suddenly a mediocre team can become a good one. Young teams have that ability more than older ones.

“I’m optimistic. But it needs to start happening quickly for us to realistically be able to go into the postseason and feel confident about doing some good things.”

Already halfway through their 2013-14 season, the Gators still have time (five tournaments before postseason play) to get things right. Their best opportunity may be the one they have right in front of them this weekend — the SunTrust Gator Invitational at the Mark Bostick Golf Course, UF’s only home tournament every year.

Playing on their home course may be just what the young, tentative Gators need to generate some much-needed confidence and make a run at their first tournament victory of the season.

“It’s the best time of the year. It’s the only home tournament we have, so you want to kind of show out this one time,” junior J.D. Tomlinson said. “It was a rough fall and we didn’t have a great first (spring) tournament (finishing sixth at the Sea Best Invitational in Ponte Vedra with a 54-over 918 score).

“I think this will be a great stimulus for the rest of the spring.”

This is a struggling team that definitely needs stimulating. Perhaps the biggest issue is UF’s youth and inexperience. Two true freshmen have been in the starting lineup all season (Ryan Orr and Victor Tarnstrom) and the Gators have only one senior on the roster (Bill Anderson, who also lacks collegiate tournament experience).

“Somebody asked me in August what our expectation was this year,” Alexander said. “I told them my expectations were we would have plenty of diaper rash.

“We’re really young. We have two freshmen who have played in every tournament, and three sophomores who have played. We’ve had only one senior in the top five (on the team) in any event this year. We’ve had growing pains.

“We haven’t quite turned the corner or grasped what we’re trying to get them to understand to play golf. At home, we may have a better chance to do that. Hopefully, we’ll have a good showing this weekend.”

This is a tournament the Gators have owned over the years, winning it 23 times in its 36-year history. But UF is on a two Gator losing streak, finishing fourth last year and third in 2012. The Gators probably are not considered one of the favorites this weekend

Still, UF has the home-course advantage, and that’s big, said Alexander and the players.

“In golf, you probably have a greater home-field advantage than in any other sport,” Alexander said. “There is so much to know about a golf course — where to hit it, how it plays in certain conditions, how putts break.

“It’s a huge advantage. There are so many intangibles involved in a golf course. If you play it on a daily basis, you have a better understanding of how to play it.”

If the Gators are going to find any momentum this spring, maybe this is the time and the place.

“Definitely,” junior Eric Banks said. “It would be a good starting point, on our home course.

“We all feel comfortable here, sleeping in our own beds. We’ve played this course hundreds of times. I think it’s shaping up to be a pretty good weekend.”

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