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Past troubles fuel USF men’s golf’s hopes of a title run

Sophomore Claudio Correa won the individual title at The Gator Invitational last spring. USF travels to Gainesville on Saturday for this year’s tournament. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS.COM

No one has felt the highs and lows of collegiate golf more than the USF men’s team. 

After soaring past all expectations heading into last year’s National Championship rounds — finishing sixth out of 30 teams — the Bulls quickly felt the heartache of coming so close, but falling just short, losing in match play.

After the best run in program history, the expectations are at an all-time high and with that, pressure surely follows.

“After our performance in the fall, I kind of sensed that they were pretty disappointed that they had not met expectations, and I think they kind of felt that they lacked the confidence and they weren’t as good as last year’s team,” coach Steve Bradley said of his team that had only two top-five finishes in four tournaments in the fall.

The key to repeating their historic run, Bradley said, is to set the spring season off in a positive direction as the team travels to Gainesville this weekend for the Gator Invitational — a tournament USF won last season.

USF will play 36 holes on Saturday and 18 rounds on Sunday against a challenging field at the Mark Bostick Golf Course.

“Vanderbilt’s really good, Florida State’s really good and (University of) Florida is a lot better than last year,” Bradley said. “The goal is to certainly go up there and win again, but we have to play really well. It’s been a while since we’ve played there, but we have three guys returning off of last year’s winning team and we’ve got the individual champion. 

“So, I know there’s going to be some positive vibes and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

USF lost seniors Trey Valentine and Ryan Fricker from last year’s winning team, but have replaced them with transfers Aksel Olsen (senior, Wallace State Community College) and Christian DiMarco (sophomore, Kentucky).

Olsen played in every tournament in the fall and has become a strong asset for Bradley.

“He’s really elevated his game and stepped in nicely for us and has been a solid contributor for us for the fall and I expect him to do so as we continue the spring,” Bradley said.

DiMarco, on the other hand, had question marks surrounding him coming in — most of which have been put to rest in Bradley’s eyes.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Bradley said of the University of Kentucky transfer. “I knew he had some game, I just wasn’t sure he was going to step in and help us right away, but he’s done that. He’s going to be critical in how our team performs.”

Adding new players year after year is a staple of college sports. It leads to coaches constantly switching around lineups. For Bradley, it leads to competition and inevitably, progress.

“They’re golfers and it’s an individual sport. They all want to be the best and so, they’re learning from each other on a daily basis,” Bradley said. “Christian thinks he’s as good as Claudio (Correa), Rigel (Fernandes) and Chase (Koepka) and that’s what you want.”

The end game is a return to the national stage. That’s clear. But before the team gets a chance at redemption, they have seven tournaments standing in the way. 

“We can’t worry about what happens in April, May and June,” Bradley said. “We need to go up to Gainesville and play the best we can and try to win. If not, then we’ll get back to work and try and win the next one.”

—Follow on Twitter @JacobHoagUSF