West Florida holds to national-title aspirations
By Andy Zunz
West Florida men’s golf coach Steve Fell knows his team’s potential; he’s just waiting for his players to realize it on the course.
“These guys could win a national championship. It’s just going to have to be a concerted effort,” Fell said. “They’re pretty tough competitors, but to win a national championship, we’re going to have to step it up another notch or two.”
Lucky for Fell, his team has plenty of time to grow.
West Florida featured five underclassmen as it finished 17th at the NCAA Division II National Championship last season.
“I felt really good just getting to the national championship last year starting three freshmen and two sophomores. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t make it to the match play, but, all in all, it was a really good year,” Fell said. “This year, we’ll still be a little on the young side.”
The team returns all of its national championship contributors from last season except for sophomore Spencer Olson, who will take a year to redshirt and focus on academics.
“Somebody will have to step up and fill [Olson’s] spot, but I think we’ll be all right,” Fell said. “You never really know until you get going and see where everybody’s at.”
Gary Buffington III, the sole Argonaut to make the All-Gulf South Conference Team, is joined by junior Juan Miguel Heredia and sophomores Talin Rajendranath and Carlos Bown as the four returning players from the team’s run to the championship.
“We were definitely a young team, but we’ve all golfed before and competed at a high level before and we tried to carry that over,” Buffington III said. “But looking back, if we all knew what we know now, we would’ve played even better.”
In a year that included a trip to the national championship and two tournament wins as a team – one of which came at the GSC Championship – the best individual finish for an Argonaut was a tie for third. The difference in scoring average between West Florida’s first and fifth finishers was 1.64 strokes.
Fell sees those stats as consistency across the board, but would like to have one of his golfers break through for a win now and again.
“I certainly hope someone steps up . . . but my intuition says that it’s going to be more of a consistent approach,” Fell said. “There are not really any superstars, so to speak. They’re all just very consistent. No one is going to do anything big and no one is going to do anything too poorly.”
The Argonauts’ trip to Hershey, Pa., for the national championship could serve as the learning experience that helped them reach their potential.
“I think they were a little bit nervous in the first couple of rounds at the national championship from having never been in that position at that type of a tournament. That’s what happened the first two days,” Fell said. “It’s just the experience for those guys to be able to play in that type of a situation. The next time they get there, it won’t be such a shock.”