Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. — The Florida men’s golf team continued a spring tradition of sorts — winning the first tournament of the season on the First Coast.
And the University of North Florida’s Nick Gabrelcik has a tradition of his own going in winning college tournaments hosted by one of the two area NCAA Division I schools.
The Gators rallied with a 4-under 276 team score on Tuesday at the TPC Sawgrass Dye’s Valley Course and came from four shots off the lead to start the day to win the Sea Best Invitational at 6-over par 846, nudging Liberty by six shots. UNF finished third at 13-under.
It was Florida’s fifth victory in the tournament hosted by Jacksonville University and the first since 2017. The Gators beat Liberty in a playoff for the team title in last year’s Timuquana Collegiate that began the spring schedule.
John Dubois and Ricky Castillo both shot 67 for UF, with Dubois tying for second and Castillo tying for fourth. Yuxin Lin (70) and Fred Biondi (72) tied for 26th.
It trumped the Flames’ Kieran Vincent (68, tie for second), Jonathan Yaun (70), and Austin Barbin (73), who both tied for 15th. When Florida finished it had a five-shot lead over the Flames, whose players had anywhere from three to five holes left.
”It wasn’t over until their best two players were on No. 18,” Florida coach J.C. Deacon said. “Jeff Thomas is a great coach and they’ve got a lot of great players over there and it took a great final round for us to beat them. They wouldn’t go away and stop fighting.”
Deacon said the week was indicative of a team-wide effort to erase a lackluster fall season in which UF had finishes of a tie for eighth, 12th and a tie for fifth — the latter at Isleworth.
”We didn’t have a very good fall so we have been a very motivated group,” Deacon said. “I’ve been super-impressed by how hard the guys have worked this winter. It started back on Oct. 20 and the guys have had an awesome off-season. I’m so happy for that hard work to pay off.”
Castillo birdied three of his first four holes to set the early pace and Dubois had seven 3s among his last 13 holes.
Lin made a hole-in-one at the 190-yard 14th hole, using a 6-iron for his third ace in competition. Lin said he didn’t see the ball go into the hole, which was cut on the middle-left, but one witness was six-time PGA Tour winner and nearby resident Billy Horschel, a past Gator All-American.
“Dropped 3 feet in front of the hole and rolled in like a putt,” said Horschel, who was at the tournament for the Sunday practice round and the two competitive rounds to watch his college team.
University of North Florida golf coach Scott Schroeder (left) and sophomore Nick Gabrelcik (right) look over Gabrelcik’s tee shot at the 18th hole of the TPC Sawgrass Dye’s Valley Course on Tuesday during the third round of the Sea Best Invitational. Gabrelcik shot 65 to win the individual title.
Speaking of familiar ground, Gabrelcik successfully defended his Sea Best individual title with a closing 65 and a 54-hole total of 7-under-par 203, six shots over Dubois and Vincent.
The UNF sophomore from Trinity, Fla., won his fourth college tournament in his 13th start and is now 3-for-3 in college tournaments hosted by UNF or JU. Gabrelcik won last year’s Sea Best by one shot and captured The Hayt, hosted by UNF at the Sawgrass Country Club, by two shots.
In those three tournaments, Gabrelcik is a cumulative 20-under and has a stroke average of 68.4. He’s the only player to have won both and said it’s a matter of preferring the difficult late winter/early spring conditions in Northeast Florida, where it can get windy and chilly.
”I’ve just developed a liking for Jacksonville golf,” Gabrelcik said. “I’ve noticed the courses around here fit my game well. Firm and fast, nice greens … I think harder conditions benefit me more because I like to flight my golf shots and work my ball in different ways, whereas when it’s calm and soft, anyone can go out and fire up pins and go low.”
Gabrelcik birdied three of his first four holes and then dropped his longest putt of the day, a 30-footer for birdie at No. 9. He birdied Nos. 12 and 15 and might have won by a touchdown and two-point conversion had he made two 8-foot birdie attempts at Nos. 16 and 18, or avoided his only bogey of the day at No. 17.
UNF coach Scott Schroeder said it’s no big mystery why Gabrelcik has done well in the area events.
”He’s really good at golf,” Schroeder said of Gabrelcik, who has eight top-five finishes in less than two seasons for the Ospreys. “He controls his golf ball really well and on both of these golf courses, you’ve got to be able to hit the ball. And he’s learned to be patient and keep the ball in the right spots.”
UNF, the defending Sea Best team champion, made the biggest move of the day, coming from 12th place (next-to-last) and getting within four shots of the lead at one point before finishing third, seven shots behind the Gators.
Davis Lee (68) and Jason Duff (69) joined Gabrelcik in shooting under par and helping the Ospreys post the low team round of the day at 6-under. Cody Carroll chipped in with a 72.
”Today we had four guys who played good,” Schroeder said. “We’ve talked a lot about how they’re going to handle themselves on the golf course and focusing on that and let the results come. We did a lot better job of that day. Golf can be a roller coaster and we want to try to not let our emotions be a roller coaster. I thought we did a really nice job with that.”
JU’s Alexandre Vandermoten, who began the day tied with Gabrelcik for the lead at 2-under, shot 73 and tied for fourth. Florida’s Tyler Wilkes, playing as an individual, had a 71 to tie for 10th at 3-over.