Florida's Sam Horsfield gears up for final college semester

Sam Horsfield

Florida's Sam Horsfield gears up for final college semester

College

Florida's Sam Horsfield gears up for final college semester

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Last fall, Florida’s Sam Horsfield was in a bit of a slump – by his standards, of course. He was coming off a tie for 54th at the Windon Memorial and had just followed an opening-round 67 at the Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational with a disappointing 77.

Fortunately, his teammates picked him up. Alejandro Tosti shot 66 and no other Gator carded worse than 70. Even better, Horsfield recognized the support.

“He walked up to the guys – he was playing No. 1 so they were all waiting for him after he signed his card – and he said, ‘Thanks for having my back today, boys. I really, really appreciate it, and I’m going to be there for you guys tomorrow,’ ” Florida head coach J.C. Deacon recalled. “It seems so simple and not a big deal, but that said so much to the rest of the guys.

“Sam’s obviously got a lot of attention the last couple of years, but it was about the team and about him playing well for them, and it kind of got all of them to be on the same page.”

Two weeks later, Florida showed how good it could be by winning the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational. Tosti won the event and Horsfield finished solo 10th. The Gators finished the fall ranked No. 3 in the country and on a high note.

“We’re part of a family here,” Horsfield said. “That’s one thing that Deacs preaches is family and being great teammates to each other and having each other’s backs all the time.”

This spring, Horsfield will have his teammates’ backs for one last semester. Once his sophomore season concludes, Horsfield, the world’s No. 3-ranked amateur, intends to join the pro ranks, which explains why Horsfield was not included on the GB&I’s initial 19-man Walker Cup squad.

“I think everyone’s pretty aware of my situation right now,” said Horsfield, who withdrew from the 2015 Walker Cup because of visa concerns. “I think they know what’s going to happen.”

Horsfield’s father, Tony, has long talked about the likelihood of a two-year plan for Horsfield at Florida. Deacon said the Horsfield family was up-front and honest with him from Day 1, letting him be a part of the conversation – and he knows the young man from Davenport, Fla., is ready to begin his play-for-pay career.

“That’s what we’re trying to do at Florida is get these guys into a spot where they’re ready to play golf and have the financial opportunities that come with that, and Sam’s reached that pinnacle and we’re going to support him in every way,” Deacon said. “And he’s been amazing enough to kind of have the program’s well-being in the back of his mind to give us enough time to find someone to try and fill his shoes.”

Sam Horsfield at Highlands Reserve.

Sam Horsfield, pictured at Highlands Reserve Golf Club in Davenport, Fla., in 2013, has long dreamed of playing professional golf. (Golfweek/Tracy Wilcox)

Florida doesn’t have to worry about a drop-off in talent next season. It will bring in a class next fall headlined by Denmark’s John Axelson. The 2017 class also includes Floridians Chris Nido, Manuel Girona and Robert Eisch.

As for this season, Florida has an NCAA Championship in its sights. Entering the spring, the Gators have four players ranked 41st or better – Tosti (15), Jorge Garcia (23), Andy Zhang (37) and Gordon Neale (41).

“Everything is just kind of going our way right now,” Deacon said. “It’s been really cool … but it’s up to us to put in the hard work and be ready to go when the lights come on.

“I’m trying to work as hard as I’ve ever worked in my life. I just want to see how good we can be. I don’t know what that is.”

The Gators have a chance to be really good. If Horsfield, currently ranked 114th, plays like he’s capable, the Gators should have five top-50 players at its disposal come postseason time.

Horsfield admits he wasn’t exactly 100-percent healthy last fall and it affected his golf game. “I think everybody knows I didn’t play my best,” he said.

He spent the winter getting his health back in order and also made the rounds with several equipment companies. (Horsfield had played mostly Nike clubs his entire life.) While still testing with several manufacturers, Horsfield will start the spring with a mixed bag that includes the Callaway Epic driver, TaylorMade M1 3-wood, Titleist Vokey Design wedges, and his long-trusted Bettanardi putter.

“During the process I learned so much about different technology,” Horsfield said. “I went to California for a few days and did all the facilities out there and all those places are so nice. … I hit a lot of balls and have been doing a lot of on-course practicing, too. I think that’s the best indicator to which is the best product for yourself.

“Over the three or four months that I’ve been testing stuff, it’s really opened my eyes a lot to different companies and different clubs that I wouldn’t have probably thought about testing before, even though I had a mixed bag.”

The offseason has left Horsfield re-energized, ready to make one more run at an NCAA title with his boys.

“Everyone here wants to be here and we all have the same goals and we all see ourselves being in contention in big tournaments,” Horsfield said. “We’re all working our butts off every single day, whether on the golf course or in the gym. We’re just grinding hard, and at the end of the day we think it’s going to pay off for us.”

Horsfield will get paid himself soon enough. But for now, it’s all about the team. Just like the Gators like it.

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