SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Senior Fred Biondi, just three days removed from winning the NCAA individual title, provided the clinching point Wednesday night to secure the Florida Gators the team crown at the 2023 NCAA Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club.
But Biondi, whose par on the 18th hole locked up the program's fifth national title, was quick to point out in the post-match euphoria that the spotlight did not deserve to be on him.
"Winning as a team means so much more. It's awesome that we did this together," Biondi said. "It's not just me closing it out, it's every single person back home, back in the gym, the people back home cheering, the coaches on this staff, just everyone involved. It's their championship, too."
And everybody on hand soaked in the program's first title in 23 years, especially Coach J.C. Deacon, assistant and UF alum Dudley Hart and Biondi's four teammates, who collectively stared down yet another high-intensity match-play challenge - their third in two days - before finishing off a 3-1 victory over Georgia Tech.
About an hour earlier, the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets seemingly had command of their overall match against the No. 2 seed, leading three of the four individual matchups still in contention before the Gators made their move. It wasn't a comeback along the lines of Tuesday night's rally from a 2-0 deficit against Florida State in the semifinals, but it showed a lot of moxie.
"These guys don't give up," said Deacon, who was hired in 2014 to replace Hall-of-Famer Buddy Alexander after 27 seasons and in his ninth year led the Gators to both the Southeastern Conference and NCAA crowns. "Their tough sons-of-guns and I'm proud to be their coach."
Senior Yuxin Lin posted Florida's first point with a par putt on No. 15 to finish a lopsided 4&3 victory against Cristo Lamprecht. At that point, however, Tech led one match by a stroke and the three other matches were tied.
It wasn't that long before the Yellow Jackets seemingly grabbed momentum across the course, with leads in three of the four matches still out with the entire field through at least 12 holes.
Then things changed.
The Jackets were poised to make it it 1-1 when Bartley Forrester stood over a three-foot putt on 17 that would have closed his match against redshirt freshman walk-on Matt Kress, who lost the first hole of the day and played from behind their entire match. Forrester, though, watched his "gimme" do a U-turn and hop out, drawing Kress within a stroke with a hole to play. The mistake proved costly, as Kress hit a great drive and stuck his second shot at 18 to two feet for birdie.
The win there tied their match and sent it to sudden death before eventually being decided on the 20th hole when Forrester made bogey and Kress, after duck-hooking a drive into the desert, made double. By then, though, Kress' teammates had seized control of the overall match. By taking Forrester into extras, Kress gave the Gators time to settle in.
"That was huge for all of us," Deacon said. "All the guys saw Matt was 2-down late, but he kept fighting, fighting through that adversity. He just epitomized our team."
In the time Kress was rallying for extra golf, senior John DuBois tied his match with Connor Howe at No. 15 and eventually won it with a par at 18 to Howe's bogey to push the Gators to a 2-1 advantage. By then, both Biondi, teeing off at 18, and Ricky Castillo, at 17, had surged to 1-up leads in their individual matches, with the Gators needing only one of them to close out to clinch.
Biondi, from São Paulo, Brazil, hit a great tee shot, followed by a solid approach to the front of the green, then and lagged his putt to within two feet. It was close enough that Tech's Hiroshi Tai, already lying four, conceded to give Biondi the hole and the Gators the NCAA championship.
"I promised J.C. when I first got to school that i would work as hard as I could to try and bring him a ring or two," said Biondi, who on Monday joined Nick Gilliam (2001) and Bob Murphy (1966) as the only golfers in Florida history to win the NCAA individual medalist crown. "And we did it."
Indeed, it was a fitting finish for the talented senior quartet of Biondi, Castillo and DuBois, along with Lin, the transfer from USC, who together grew not only as golfers but teammates with a purpose they put before their individual achievements.
"We were always talented, no doubt about that, but these guys changed their work ethic, discipline and their habits," Deacon said. "That's how we're standing here today. They sacrificed their entire lives to get better at golf and learn the hard things about the game -- and they just won a national championship."
Make that 46 all-time NCAA titles for the Gators, with men's golf becoming UF's fourth program with five or more team championships, joining men's indoor and outdoor track and field (7) and women's tennis (7). Men's golf captured the first NCAA title in Florida history in 1968.
Florida is one of only two programs nationally with at least one national team championship in each of the fully contested athletic seasons since 2008-09.