Gators open quest for men’s golf title

To get to this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship in Ohio, the Florida Gators will have to travel through Texas.

Coach Buddy Alexander’s eighth-ranked Florida team begins play today in the 54-hole Austin Regional at the University of Texas Golf Club. Thanks to their third-place finish in the SEC Championships, Florida earned the No. 2 seed in the regional behind fifth-ranked Stanford. Also in the field are No. 19 Texas Tech, No. 21 UNLV and No. 25 Texas.

Also in the field are Mississippi State, California, Michigan, Texas-Arlington, Virginia Tech and three conference champions – Lamar (Southland), New Mexico State (Western Athletic Conference) and Jackson State (Southwestern Athletic Conference).

This year, there are six NCAA regionals of either 13 or 14 teams. The top five teams and low individual not on those teams advance to the championship, which is being held at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. The Donald Ross layout has hosted four U.S. Opens, a U.S. Amateur and two recent PGA Championships won by Bob Tway and Paul Azinger.

Florida has a combined 8-3 head-to-head record against teams in this weekend’s field. UF has not faced Lamar, Texas-Arlington, New Mexico State or Jackson State during the 2008-09 season.

Current senior and SEC Golfer of the Year Billy Horschel leads Florida. Horschel has been in the Top 10 in seven of his nine tournaments this season, capping off the season so far with his victory in the SEC Championship at the end of April. He leads the SEC with a 71.15 stroke average and joined former Gator great Gary Koch as the only player to earn All-SEC first-team honors four straight years.

Junior Tim McKenney is having a banner season, averaging 72.81 strokes while earning All-SEC second-team honors with five top-five finishes. Classmate Tyson Alexander is coming of a 17th-place finish at the SEC Championship. Senior Toby Ragland, who edged out Horschel after seven playoff holes to win the individual title at the SunTrust Gator Invitational, and Will Strickler, who won the Golden Ocala Collegiate in February, complete the team. The five players have a combined 152 starts and all have NCAA postseason experience.

This is the 20th time in his 21 years at Florida that Alexander has taken a team to NCAA Championship. During that time, the Gators have won titles in 1993 and 2001 and also had an individual winner in Nick Gilliam in 2001. Florida was the runner-up in the 1990 and 2006 NCAA tournaments.

In the four times Florida has won the national title, it has failed to win the regional preceding it. Five Gators have won individual regional medals, including Horschel twice (the 2006 West Regional and the 2007 East Regional).