Florida's Alexander gets emotional sendoff at SECs
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. –– With Alabama comfortably wrapping up a third consecutive SEC Championship Sunday afternoon at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course, Crimson Tide head coach Jay Seawell was able to step away for a moment, walking from the 18th green over to the nearby ninth green to show his support for one of college golf's greatest coaches.
Sunday's final round likely marked the end of Florida head coach Buddy Alexander's 35-year coaching career, as the Gators, who tied for 12th out of 14 teams at Sea Island, are a long-shot to make an NCAA Regional.
With Alexander holding the flagstick, Florida junior Eric Banks sank a par putt to wrap up the Gators' tournament. And with Alexander's players, former players, family, friends and fellow coaches surrounding him, he walked off the green and into a sea of support.
"I was truly thankful that we were in a position where I could leave my post for just a minute and really relish that moment because I think he's a special person for college golf," Seawell said. "It's truly a sad day."
There were tears. There were hugs. There were stories shared with old friends.
"When Mike Donald and Jodie Mudd show up, two players that played for me at Georgia Southern a long time ago, that's pretty awesome," said Alexander, who has produced 26 top-15 NCAA finishes in coaching stints at Florida, LSU and Georgia Southern, including the 1993 NCAA Championship in his sixth year with the Gators.
Alexander, who announced his plan to retire on April 22, also coached 31 PGA Tour members, although he said it's hard to nail down what's been the most rewarding part of coaching college golf.
"In coaching there are a lot of rewards," Alexander said. "As a competitor, you get in it to win championships. As a coach, you get into it to mentor kids, and see them become adults and grow.
"I've got a lot of close friends that are former players that you've never heard, but they are very successful and they learned some things at Florida or LSU or Georgia Southern, and I'm proud of those guys. And obviously, the golf world looks at the players that I've coached that have gone on to play professionally and the success that they've had, and that's extremely rewarding, too, but all of it is rewarding."
J.D. Tomlinson, a junior at Florida, grew up in Gainesville, Fla., not far from Florida's campus, and knew from the beginning that he wanted to play for Alexander at Florida.
"As a player, it's hard to go somewhere where the coach really isn't going to help you, and going somewhere where you know you have the best coach in the country along with one of the best schools, it's kind of hard to pass that up," Tomlinson said.
"My whole experience has been amazing, all the things he's taught me off the course, and that doesn't even include all the things he's taught me on the course."
As for what's next, Alexander is looking forward to the next phase of his life.
"I'm looking forward to having a little time off and spending a little time with my family, and playing a little golf, which I haven't done a lot lately," Alexander said.
As for what's on the horizon for the Gators, it's still uncertain who the new coach will be. Sources have told Golfweek that an outside hire is expected for the head-coaching position, but that there's a good possibility John Handrigan would stay on as assistant coach.
Alexander, who will remain in Gainesville, also has interest in acting as a mentor – that is, as long as the new coach allows.
"There's going to be a new coach that comes in and if he doesn't want me around, I won't be around," Alexander said. "It's going to be his program. He's going to have to do things his way and he's going to probably want to change the culture a little bit, and that's a good thing.
"If it's a guy that I know and he wants me there, then I'll be there as much as he wants me or as much as I can."
Regardless, he will still be there for his former players.
"He already said he'd help with whatever I need," Tomlinson said. "But I really hope John stays. He's been a big influence on me, so I hope he sticks around."
Florida entered the week at 72nd in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, and it will likely end the season with just two top-5 finishes in 11 events. The Gators' current streak of 13 NCAA Championship appearances is also likely to end.
"This year wasn't what we had hoped," Tomlinson said. "I think next year will be better, but the following year it will be an awesome year. Whoever comes in will do a good job with (the program), and I'm looking forward to seeing who the next coach is going to be."
Although there will be a new face leading the Gators next season, Alexander's impact on college golf will never be forgotten.
"He made us all better," Seawell said. "I've learned a ton from him. He was very kind to a little snot-nosed coach at Augusta State and let me bounce things off of him all my career. He did it right. He made our game better."
For 35 years, Alexander was a college golf coach. Now, he's ready for life outside of coaching.
"It was time for me to go," Alexander said. "I've run my course and I'm looking forward to slowing down just a little bit."
For Alexander, that time begins now.