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In notching his first career college victory on Sunday at the Gator Invitational, Florida junior Fred Biondi had come a long way.
Biondi learned the game of golf from his grandfather, Nelson, who once built a 12-hole golf course on some farmland adjacent to his weekend home outside of Sao Paolo, Brazil. Biondi couldn’t remember the name of the homemade layout – sadly, it no longer exists – but it’s where, as a 4-year-old, he played his first rounds.
After a few years Biondi graduated from the modest conditions of Nelson’s personal track to Sao Paolo Golf Club, a well-regarded, private club in middle of the soccer-crazed city, where he honed his skills before eventually moving to the U.S. to attend Club Med Academies in Port St. Lucie, Florida. It was there that he blossomed, winning back-to-back Florida State Juniors, in 2016 and ’17, and placing second at the Terra Cotta Invitational, a prestigious amateur event in Naples, Florida, in 2018.
Though not quite a blue-chip prospect, Biondi quickly caught the attention of coaches from many top schools.
“I had always had my eye on him,” Florida head coach J.C. Deacon said. “He was just my type of guy – great ball-striker, great smile, great personality. We were lucky enough to get him.”
But Biondi’s junior success didn’t immediately translate to the college game. He enrolled a semester early in Spring 2019 and didn’t see any action. He then logged just three tournaments as a redshirt freshman before doubling that total as a sophomore, where he recorded a best finish of T-6 while competing as an individual at the Sea Best Invitational but totaled just one other top-15.
Biondi arrived in Gainesville wanting to compete for championships, yet he was constantly missing lineups, including last season’s traveling squads for regionals and nationals after tying for 58th in his SEC Championship debut.
“I was always grinding,” Biondi said, “but I still felt like I was improving every year.”
Biondi’s biggest stride has come in the past year. Biondi tapped into his wealth of resources – Deacon; swing coach Matt DeJohn; Gators assistant Dudley Hart, a former Tour player; and current Tour pros and former Gator greats Sam Horsfield and Billy Horschel, the latter of whom is now Florida’s volunteer coach – and unlocked new layers to his game. He learned how to better self-diagnose and fix his swing on the fly while finding more consistency on and around the greens.
He saw almost instant results, too, winning the Florida State Amateur at Streamsong in June and closing the fall with a final-round 67 and T-13 finish at the Isleworth Collegiate. He then led the Latin America Amateur Championship by two shots with nine holes to play before finishing second last month in the Dominican Republic.
“My first time being in front of a bunch of people and cameras,” Biondi said. “It was tough.”
But the experience was good for Biondi. While his game had received a boost, his confidence still waned. Nearly earning Masters and U.S. Open berths changed that, as did hearing from Horschel recently that he’s “got the goods.”
“I feel like sometimes I get too humble, and I just don’t believe too much in myself; I kind of lose my confidence too quick,” Biondi said. “Hearing people tell me how good I am, I just try to put that in my head.”
Added Deacon: “He’s been really good for a long time, and it was just him getting over the hump and believing in himself.”
Biondi’s breakout moment came last weekend at Florida’s home event at Mark Bostick Golf Course. He opened in 7-under 63 and opened a three-shot lead over teammate Ricky Castillo entering Sunday’s final round. After a slow start, Biondi birdied each of the final three holes on the front nine and arrived at the par-4 18th hole still up three.
When he drove it into the left fairway bunker, he didn’t fret. For one, he felt comfortable with the home crowd – and his parents, Fernando and Maricota, who drove up from their part-time residence in Miami – behind him. Secondly, his breathing was controlled. In addition to the practice on the course, Biondi and his teammates have been seeing a breathing specialist and doing yoga to help with these kind of pressure situations.
So, Biondi calmly pulled out a wedge, cleanly picked his ball from the sand, launched it up and around a nearby tree, drew it against the wind and landed it 10 feet away. He then, with everyone watching, rolled in the birdie putt to tie the tournament record of 14 under, first set by Camilo Benedetti in 2001, and win by four shots.
Florida also won the team title, beating national power Oklahoma State by 12.
“I've done a couple of things in the past,” Biondi said, “but winning at home, winning my first college event means a lot, in front of a home crowd and helping the guys win a team title, too.”
Added Deacon: “When you hit it as good as he does and then putt and chip pretty good, you’re going to do things like this.”
Biondi began his college career with high expectations. Now, he is starting to finally realize them.
No. 1 stays hot
Oklahoma started the spring just like it ended the fall: with a win.
The top-ranked Sooners, who a few months ago took the East Lake Cup title, captured the Puerto Rico Classic after a blistering final-round performance Tuesday at the Grand Reserve Golf Club in Rio Grande. Trailing Georgia by four shots after 36 holes, Oklahoma shot 20 under while counting just two bogeys to edge the Bulldogs in a barn burner, winning by four shots at an eye-popping 59 under.
That 54-hole total in relation to par smashes the previous school record of 48 under, which was set at the 2011 Desert Shootout. It was at that same tournament where then-Sooner Abraham Ancer shot 21 under, also a program best.
Graduate senior Chris Gotterup nearly matched Ancer on Tuesday. Gotterup, who shared the medal at East Lake and had two other top-3 finishes in the fall, picked up his first full-field college win as a Sooner, firing 20 under on his own ball to beat Tennessee’s Bryce Lewis and Georgia’s Maxwell Ford by four shots.
Patrick Welch added a T-6 finish, shaking his recent struggles in a big way. He set a new program record with an opening-round 62 on Sunday, and two days later notched his best finish since a T-4 at last spring’s Seminole Intercollegiate. Logan McAllister rallied with a closing 65 to share 16th and keep his top-20 streak alive. He’s yet to finish outside of the top 20 this season.
In total, Oklahoma made 80 birdies as a team this week, also a school record.
“Just a great week all around for us,” Oklahoma head coach Ryan Hybl said. “We have been excited just to get back on the road and this group has great chemistry. We had some great rounds all week long and we knew we had to keep the pedal down today. There's nothing better than having the low final round and we'll keep building from there.”
A Hokie first
For the first time in school history, the Virginia Tech women are outright team champions.
The Hokies hung on in windy conditions Monday at Duran Golf Club in Melbourne, Florida, to edge Texas Tech for the Columbia Classic title. The victory marked the program’s second-ever team win but first solo triumph after sharing the 2019 Princess Anne Invitational with LSU.
Symone Henriques (T-10), Emily Mahar (T-4) and Becca DiNunzio (T-2) paced Virginia Tech with Mahar notching her first career hole-in-one during Sunday’s second round. After shotgun-starting off Nos. 1-3, the Hokies played the par-4 18th hole in a combined 8 over, though Texas Tech was worse, going 10 over on the hole and ending at 17 over, one shot shy of Virginia Tech.
Oklahoma State, the second-ranked team in Golfstat, placed third at 20 over. The Cowgirls boasted the individual winner, Isabella Fierro, but it was clear they were missing Caley McGinty, the team’s best player, ranked No. 2 individually, who decided to leave the team and enter the transfer portal a few weeks ago.