April 24, 2017
UF’s women’s golf team fired a SEC Championship-record 22-under to win its ninth league title.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The sixth-ranked Florida women’s golf team entered Sunday’s final round of the Southeastern Conference Championships with a five-stroke lead over second-place Georgia. The Gators had started slowly on the tournament’s opening day, but put together some solid scores during Round 2 in taking a lead that was significant but in no way comfortable.
Coach Emily Glaser told her players to approach that third round as if the scoreboard had been wiped clean. Everyone level. Don’t go out trying to be defensive, she said. There was too much golf to play. Start fast, be aggressive from the first swing and win the day.
The Gators played that first hole collectively at 1-under.
“I know it sounds silly, because it was just one hole, but what I saw was a calm and steady team,” Glaser said. “I felt pretty good after that first hole.”
And off the Gators went, all the way to their first SEC crown since 2008, rolling to a tournament-record score of 22-under and smashing Alabama, the league’s defending champion, by 13 strokes at Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham, Ala.
A year ago, Maria Torres took home the hardware as the league’s individual champion. The Gators didn’t have the SEC medalist this time around. Just four in the Top 13, with Kelly Grassel finishing third (8-under 208), Torres fourth (7-under 209), Taylor Tomlinson tied for seventh (4-under 212) and Vlckova tied for 13th (3-under 213).
“I’m so proud of the energy they all showed,” Glaser said. “They never let up.”
On the back nine, Grassel birdied No. 9 right in front of Vlckova, who said she got a “jolt of energy” from her teammate.
Vlckova then birdied 10, 11 and 12.
Nothing was getting in the Gators’ way Sunday.
“We went there and got the job the done,” said Vlckova, who couldn’t help but look back to year ago when UF and Alabama went to the final day in a first-play tie, only to lose to the Crimson Tide by five strokes. “Last year, we went in kind of hoping we could get it done and actually hoped more than we did our jobs. I just think we actually believed we would win this year. And it made a difference.”
The 2016 UF squad won six tournaments, including four straight heading into SEC play. Those Gators were good enough for that second-place finish at the league tournament and tied for first at their NCAA regional, only to exit the season in a tie for 20th at the NCAA Championships.
What happened at the end of that season carried over into the current one; in a good way. Chalk that up to the learning curve. Glaser believes that knowledge was pivotal in pushing her 2017 team and now has been safely tucked away to serve the Gators well as they look toward the NCAA Regional play in two weeks. They’ll be confident, but also armed with some perspective.
“It’s exciting for our seniors. It feels good and it gives us some momentum,” Glaser said. “But when we go to regionals, the slate gets wiped clean. All the principles we followed to win a SEC championship go back into effect.”
It’s a good approach. In 2012, when Glaser was promoted from UF assistant to become a first-time head coach, the man who hired her, Athletic Directory Jeremy Foley, told Glaser she would make mistakes. Part of the deal. How she responded to them — and, in turn, how her team responded — would define her success.
Now UF has its ninth SEC title.
“Last year, we won a lot of regular-season events, which is rare in golf considering we play a really tough schedule,” Glaser said. “But sometimes it just felt so easy that I’m not sure we learned the lessons we needed to. When we got to the hardest part of our season, when things got tough, we weren’t as a tough as we needed to be. We won some more tournaments this year, but we also had some adversity mixed in with success. That combination prepared us to be SEC champions.”