Courtesy of Florida Athletics
John DuBois, last year’s SEC individual champion, came through in the clutch on Sunday to lift the Florida Gators to the SEC Men’s Golf Championship played on the Seaside Course at the Sea Island Golf Club on the Georgia coast.
The Florida senior drained an uphill putt from 15 feet for par on the 18th hole in the next-to-last match left on the course to clinch the deciding point for the Gators who defeated Vanderbilt by a 3-1-1 score in a down-to-the-wire dual along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Doing it with teammates is something I never realized was even cooler,” DuBois said on Sunday. “To win last year was really awesome, but doing it as a team, everyone came together. We all had a common goal in mind and we did that.”
A year ago, DuBois recorded his first collegiate victory at the SEC tournament when he shot 4-under 206 over the 54 holes of stroke play with his total including a 64 score which ranks as his best score during his college career.
On Sunday, seventh-ranked Florida led the top-ranked Commodores 2-1 when Dubois and Vandy’s Reid Davenport walked to the 18th tee with their match all square with only the final hole to play.
Behind them was the only other match left on the course and it featured a pair of All-Americans who also would go to the 18th moments later all-even after Florida senior Fred Biondi made his birdie putt after knocking down the flagstick on the par-3 17th hole to pull even with Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent, the star sophomore and current top-ranked player in college golf who had taken his first lead in their match two holes earlier.
Last April, DuBois made a 4-foot putt at the demanding last hole which plays to an elevated green to secure a one-shot victory over Sargent who went on to win the NCAA title last season to close out his freshman campaign with the Commodores.
On Sunday, DuBois made the longer putt under pressure for his par after his second shot from the rough hit the green but rolled some distance off the putting surface, leaving him a tough up and down to a pin that was in the back-left portion of the green.
Florida head coach J.C. Deacon
Meantime, his opponent, Vandy’s Reid Davenport, hit his approach to the front of the green and had two putts left to make a par.
Both players were exactly 26 feet from the hole, but DuBois played first again and his third shot rolled well past the hole and down a slope on the slick greens that were the talk of the tournament. Davenport had to hit his putt up a huge rise and still had more than eight feet left to make a four.
With his teammates watching intently, DuBois made the long putt for par, which was met with a Tigeresque first pump and a loud roar that could be heard several holes away.
“That was really an awesome feeling to watch that putt go in,” he said. “And, to have the whole team here and a bunch of Gators out here supporting us, it was really a special feeling.”
The incredible par-save by DuBuois meant Davenport had to respond with a par to keep the match tied, but when his putt didn’t go in the hole, the Gators had themselves another conference crown.
They were so excited that they brought the victory celebration down the fairway to Biondi who watched the action ahead unfold along with Sargent as they both waited to hit their approach shots from almost the same distance beyond the cart path that intersects the 18th fairway.
“It’s extremely tough with so many great teams,” DuBois said of winning the SEC. “Every team in this field is super-talented and very deep, so to come here to compete to get to match-play and then make it through is just a great feeling.”
Had the DuBois-Davenport match still been tied after regulation, the drama would have thickened for sure. Those two would have headed to extra holes while Biondi and Sargent would have played out the 18th and perhaps would have needed to keep going, too.
Instead with the championship decided, Biondi and Sargent both picked up their balls and their match went down as a tie.
The team title was the 16th for the Gators and their first since the 2011 season. The conference crown was also the first for Florida head coach J.C. Deacon who is in his ninth season with the program.
The win avenges Florida's, 3-2 loss to Vanderbilt in last year's SEC title match.
“It took everything for us to beat them today, and that says a lot about our guys. We have an incredible team,” Deacon said.
In Sunday’s rematch, redshirt freshman Matthew Kress put the first point on the board for Florida with a 5 and 4 triumph over Matthew Riedel.
Ricky Castillo scored Florida’s second point when he defeated Cole Sherwood in Match 5 which was the final one to go off Sunday morning.
Vandy got its victory from William Moll who toppled Yuxin Lin, 5 and 3 in Match 3.
DuBois, who went out in the second match, actually trailed Davenport by three holes after losing each of the first three holes. He cut his deficit to two holes twice on the outward nine but found himself down three after 11 holes. DuBois then proceeded to win the next two and would finally tie his counterpart with a par at the par-4 16th.
For Vandy, Sargent also trailed by three early and was still down by three holes through 10. He rallied to give himself a chance, and perhaps the Commodores also, by winning the 11th, 12th and 14th holes to pull even before taking his first lead with a birdie at the par-4 15th.
Both Sargent and Biondi made pars at 16 before the Florida standout squared the match again with his birdie at the 152-yard, par-3 17th.
Vandy was going for its fourth league title and third in a row. The Commodores won their first SEC crown in 2017 before going back-to-back the last two years. All of their championships have come at Sea Island which has hosted the league party since 2001.
“Tip your hat to Florida. They certainly wanted this and they went and took it from us today, said Vanderbilt coach Scott Limbaugh. “On the other hand, I’m extremely proud of our guys. We’ve tried to build something to be proud of, and we still have a lot of golf in front of us. We’ll be excited about that next opportunity.”
• • • • •
SEC Championship Match Results
Florida d. Vanderbilt, 3-1-1
Matthew Kress (UF) d. Matthew Riedel, 5 and 4
John DuBois (UF) d. Reid Davenport, 1 up
William Moll (VU) d. Yuxin Lin, 5 and 3
Fred Biondi (UF) vs. Gordon Sargent, Tie
Ricky Castillo (UF) d. Cole Sherwood, 5 and 4
Making Most of Chance:
Florida freshman Matthew Kress is a walk-on, but you wouldn’t know it based on his performance this week at the SEC tournament on St. Simons Island.
Kress, from Saratoga, Calif, was impressive for sure in his postseason debut with the Gators as he played a key role in the team’s run to the conference championship.
His 2-up win in Saturday’s semifinals gave the Gators the deciding point in their 3-2 victory over top-seeded Texas A&M. In the quarterfinals, he also scored the clinching point for the Gators against Ole Miss.
On Sunday, he put the first point of the championship match on the scoreboard for Florida with a 5 and 4 victory in the first match off the tee.
Kress finished tied for 19th in the stroke-play competition, shooting even-par with scores of 74-67-69 on the par-70 Seaside Course.
It's crazy where I was a couple of years ago, with COVID hitting and a lot of opportunities drying up,” he said. “I basically begged this guy over here to give me a chance and I don't think I'll ever know why he gave me a chance but I'm sitting here today helping him (get a conference championship ring.”
Florida coach J.C. Deacon, the guy who Kress referenced who won his first SEC title on Sunday in his ninth season with the Gators, explained why he gave Kress a chance with a simple answer as both talked in front of the cameras for the SEC Network which covered the tournament final.
“I think this is why,” Deacon said, drawing a laugh and a collective hand clap from the Florida players and fans gathered around.
Vanderbilt would have claimed its third consecutive SEC title had the Commodores won Sunday’s championship matchup. Only four SEC programs have accomplished three league titles in a row. Alabama has done it once, LSU has done it twice and Florida also has won three straight twice. Georgia has done it four different times, winning as many as five in a row which is the most by any league program consecutively.
The well-manicured greens on the Seaside Course were a big topic of conversation this week as they played as fast as they ever have in the long history of this league championship at the world-renowned resort in coastal Georgia.
Steve Melnyk, who grew up in the area and was an All-American golfer for Florida, described Seaside as a “thirsty course” during Sunday’s telecast of the final match while serving once again as the color analyst on the coverage. He was obviously alluding to the fast playing conditions as a result of firm fairways and greens which hadn’t been softened much by any rain or water from sprinklers between rounds.
A local caddy told AmateurGolf.com that the greens on Seaside were as fast as he had seen them in the almost two years that he had been working here.
Melynk also commented that the Seaside layout was probably in better shape this time of year than it was back in late November for the RSM Classic, a PGA Tour event hosted by the Davis Love Foundation at Sea Island.
The men’s golf title was the fifth league title this academic year for Florida. The school also had already won SEC titles in women’s gymnastics, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s swimming. The victory was the fifth this season for men’s golf. It was also the team’s 20th under head coach J.C. Deacon.
Florida earns an automatic invitation to an NCAA Regional which will be May 15-17. The regional fields will be announced on May 3 during a selection show which will air live on the Golf Channel.
Local Tidbits and League Ties:
Several Sea Island members assisted with the TV coverage on Sunday including Ed Farley who held a boom microphone to pick up sound as players hit shots … Sea Island professional staff also maintained the tournament scoreboard including assistant professional Austin Rosendahl who showcased his calligraphy skills while penning the team and individual scores as they were turned in … also Sea Island outside service attendant Lee Tiller had just been given an SEC hat from someone for his good work during the tournament … Vanderbilt assistant coach Gator Todd lived locally while playing professionally after his collegiate career at Alabama. His roommate while here was former Auburn standout Patton Kizzire, who still resides on St. Simons Island while competing on the PGA Tour.… Several University of Georgia golfers have lived and some still do on St. Simons Island as they pro golf including Harris English and Brian Harman…. Sea Island director of golf Brannen Veal used to play baseball at Auburn.