PONTE VEDRA BEACH — The University of North Florida men’s golf team won its invitational tournament for the fifth time thanks to another clutch shot at the par-5 18th hole of the Sawgrass Country Club by sophomore Robbie Higgins.
Higgins, who pitched in for birdie at the last to finish Sunday’s second round after he doused his tee shot, hit a difficult chip to within tap-in range Monday to assure the Ospreys of a one-shot victory over Charlotte in The Hayt, at 4-under 860.
No other team got close as the Ospreys and 49ers turned the week into a two-team race. UNF won The Hayt for the first time since 2017.
UNF and Charlotte were tied through 18 holes. They were tied again through 36 (12 shots ahead of Liberty) and they were tied with the last two groups playing Nos. 17 and 18.
”You’d think it wasn’t possible, for two teams to be this close for 54 holes,” UNF coach Scott Schroeder said. “Charlotte has a good team, really good players and I think when we went up by four or five halfway through the round, we didn’t play well with the lead. You’re probably better off chasing than leading on this course because you get a little defensive, and this isn’t a good golf course to play scared on.”
Florida Gulf Coast (4 over), crept past the Flames to finish in third by four shots. Tennessee was fifth at 13 over and Louisville sixth at 15 over after posting the low team round of the day at 12 under.
After coming to the 18th tee with the Ospreys ahead by only one shot, Higgins found the fairway and then flared his second shot onto the lower portion of the large bank protecting the 18th green, with the ball coming to rest in the second cut of rough.
He gouged the ball out of a downhill lie and nearly holed it for a second day in a row, but settled for the birdie and a 72 that gave him solo third at 5-under 211, one shot behind teammate and defending individual champion Nick Gabrelcik (70) and LSU’s Drew Doyle (66).
Pierre Viallaneix of Florida Gulf Coast (71) finished fourth at 4 under and Ben Woodruff (73) of Charlotte and Kieran Vincent (72) of Liberty tied for fifth at 3 under. Jacksonville’s Alexandre Vandermoten (68) had four birdies and an eagle on the front nine, his back, and finished solo seventh at 2 under.
The difference in the tournament was how the top two players for UNF and Charlotte played the hit the par-5 holes. Gabrelcik was 9 under and Higgins 7 under on the par-5s for the week, while Woodruff and Park combined to go 8 under.
At No. 18, Gabrelcik and Higgins were a combined 5 under (Higgins birdied the hole each round), while Woodruff and Park combined to go 3 under.
Doyle, who was playing as an individual, made two eagles — the first on the par-4 10th on his second shot of the day — to catch Gabrelcik, who had a four-shot lead with three holes to play.
Gabrelcik then bogeyed No. 17 after his second shot caught a horrendous lie in a bunker, and bogeyed the 18th when his pitch rolled past the hole and over the back bank. Gabrelcik flubbed his fourth shot and two-putted from the top of the bank for bogey.
In the meantime, Doyle eagled No. 8 on a 6-foot putt after smacking an 6-iron from 183 yards onto the green, and parred No. 9.
Gabrelcik, who won his fifth college title, became the first player to win or tie for the individual Hayt title in back-to-back since UNF’s David Bennett in 2000 and 2001.
One other player has won The Hayt two years in a row, Clint Jensen of Tulsa in 1996 and 1997.
Gabrelcik took his lead with a run of four birdies from Nos. 6-11. Despite sharing the individual title, he said the team victory, the first since last year’s Sea Best Invitational, more than made up for Doyle chasing him down.
”We’re all Division I players,” Gabrelcik said. “Even if [Doyle] didn’t qualify to start for his team this week doesn’t mean he isn’t a good player. Everyone has a chance to win. I’m really happy for Robbie and the way he pulled off that last shot. We won as a team and that’s what’s important.”
Doyle made his eagle-two at the 10th from 103 yards out with a 54-degree wedge, then birdied two of his next three holes.
He had back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15 but birdied the 18th, turned and played bogey-free golf on the front, with another birdie at No. 2 and his eagle at the eighth.
”I think playing as an individual meant I could go out there with no pressure,” Doyle said. “Just go out and play.”
LSU coach Ryan Blagg said Doyle will get more chances if he starts believing him himself.
”He’s a great ball-striker,” Blagg said. “When he starts putting all the other parts together he’ll be a great player.”
It was the fourth team victory by one shot in tournament history and the first since Auburn beat North Carolina in 2018. Florida had back-to-back one-shot victories over Augusta State in 2001 and UNF in 2002.
Schroeder said getting the first victory in more than a calendar year was crucial for a team that starts four underclassmen.
”We have a lot of talent but we need to keep growing,” Schroeder said. “It’s learning how to play in these moments.”
Schroeder said Gabrelcik was simply pushing it on his last few holes trying to make birdies and give the team a cushion.
”All good players try to make birdies and he knew the team score was pretty tight,” Schroeder said. “He still had another very good week.”