GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For the first time in three years, Florida did not claim the team title at its own Gator Women’s Invitational. At the end of a cloudy day at the deceptively hard Mark Bostick Golf Course, Florida was third to Alabama (by four shots) and Oklahoma (by two more).
The absence of that trophy is hardly an indicator of the season. The Gators are No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings –second only to Alabama (No. 4) in the SEC.
Florida has won twice so far this season in full-field events, and both victories were in the fall. That’s a stout season to follow, as sophomore Camilla Hedberg pointed out in Gainesville.
“We’re doing pretty good this spring season, too, but it doesn’t feel as good as it actually is,” Heberg said. “…We’ve become way better than last year and I just think we’re going to keep getting better and better.”
The team dynamic for this Gator squad seems to be working, and that starts with Hedberg. She’s ranked No. 7 individually by Golfweek. Her two individual victories in the fall coincided with the team’s victories at the Cougar Classic and Betsy Rawls Invitational. Senior Isabelle Lendl, No. 22, also won twice in the fall.
Hedberg and Lendl are the consistent low scorers for this team, and are close personally. The two live in the same apartment complex in Gainesville, and would see each other more but Lendl is completing an internship this semester.
“We’ve been very close,” Hedberg said. Next month, the two will travel to Palm Springs, Calif., to play the Kraft Nabisco Championship on a sponsor exemption. They will be the only teammates among the five current college players to receive such an invitation.
For Hedberg, a year of golf in the U.S. has made all the difference, even if she can’t put her finger on exactly why – getting used to the culture and the popular college venues seem the most reasonable reasons. Before her freshman year at Florida, she can only remember playing in the U.S. a handful of times – always at the Doral-Publix Junior Golf Classic annually hosted in Miami during the holiday season. She has planned a busy summer amateur schedule outside the country, but might still play a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier. Eventually, she hopes to stick around for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
As for Hedberg’s consistency, it’s likely attributable to an accurate 250-yard average from the tee. Her scoring average is 71.4, and she hasn’t posted a round higher than 77 all year.
Combine Hedberg’s explosive power with Lendl’s experience, and it might make this tandem the best one-two punch in women’s college golf this season. Down the roster, senior Mia Piccio has become a reliable No. 3 player, and the Gators also are benefitting from junior Elcin Ulu. The Turkey native won a NJCAA National Championship with Redlands Community College in 2012 before finding her way to Florida this fall.
Ulu says she can “go very low,” but she maintains the role-playing mentality.
“I’m very consistent,” she said. “(Hedberg and Lendl) go for the pin, I’m not that kind of player.”
Perhaps the biggest key to Florida’s success this season could be the ability and the maturity to truly operate as a team.