BURLINGTON, Iowa – The Florida Gulf Coast University men’s golf team commences its season Sunday-Tuesday (Sept. 15-17) at the Golfweek Conference Challenge hosted by the University of Iowa where it will tee it up against some of the toughest competition in the nation.
The tournament will be held at Spirit Hollow Golf Course, about an hour-and-a-half from the Iowa campus on the Illinois border, for the fourth consecutive season. The first round will begin on Sunday at 9 a.m., with the second round beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday. Tuesday's final round will begin via a shotgun start at 8:30 a.m., and the Golfweek Awards Ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. Teams will play 18 holes each day, and 54 total.
The field is one of the most complete in college golf as it boasts 15 teams from 15 different conferences. Twelve teams finished the 2012-13 season ranked in the top 100 in the nation, eight of those were in the top 65, three were in the top 20 and one was in the top 5. The field consists of nine teams that qualified for the NCAA’s regional tournaments last year, and three which advanced to the NCAA Championship.
In addition to FGCU, representing the Atlantic Sun Conference, the complete field includes: Arizona (Pac-12), New Mexico (MWC), Central Arkansas (Southland), Oklahoma (Big 12), Iowa (Big Ten), Texas State (Sun Belt), Houston (American), Jacksonville State (OVC), UT Chattanooga (So-Con), Virginia Tech (ACC), Louisiana Tech (C-USA), LSU (SEC), Ball State (MAC) and Winthrop (Big South).
The 18-hole Spirit Hollow layout was ranked the No. 1 golf course in the state of Iowa in 2012. With 7,360 yards of golf from the tips, the par 72 has a course rating of 73.1 with a slope rating of 134 on Bent grass. Spirit Hollow opened in 2000 and was designed by Richard Jacobson. Spirit Hollow has played host to the 2007 U.S. Amateur qualifier, the 2009 Iowa Senior Amateur Championship, the 2010 U.S. Open Qualifier, the 2011 Iowa Match-Play Championship and the 2012 Iowa Amateur Championship.
FGCU enters the tournament looking to improve on a 14th-place finish it posted in the 2012 Conference Challenge, led by then-freshman Edward Figueroa’s 15th-place finish in his first collegiate event. Figueroa cared a 2-under 70 in the opening round before recording back-to-back rounds of 75 in the event’s closing two days. The Eagles concluded the three-day event with a team score of 914 with rounds of 306-300-308.
Figueroa – the reigning A-Sun Freshman of the Year – leads a group of five returning members, four of whom have qualified into head coach Brett Jensen’s season opening lineup:
1) Senior Matt Cote (Palm Harbor, Fla./Palm Harbor University HS)
2) Sophomore Edward Figueroa’s (Naples, Fla./St. John Neumann HS)
3) Sophomore Jake Sherwin (Fort Myers, Fla./Evangelical Christian HS)
4) Junior Blake Biggs (Peoria, Ill./Eastern Florida State College/Peoria Notre Dame HS)
5) Junior Jack Hernandez (Fort Myers, Fla./Bishop Verot HS)
Cote had three top-10 finishes, a top-15 showing and a top-25 performance in his best season yet wearing the Green and Blue last year as a junior, finishing with the team's second-lowest scoring average at 75.89. Sherwin played in 11 tournaments and had a stroke average of 76.3, good for third on the FGCU roster in 2012-13, and closed his year strong with two finishes inside the top 5 over his final three tournaments. Included in that stretch was a tie for 3rd at the 96-player field at the FAU Spring Break Championship.
Biggs, a transfer from Eastern Florida State College (formally Brevard Community College), recorded a second-place showing at the NJCAA district championship in 2013 before going on to cap his final junior college year by finishing 20th at the national championship. Hernandez posted five top-25 showings and one top 10 last year with a stroke average of 77.4. He shot a season-low 68 (-4) in the opening round of the Cobra/PUMA Invitational, which was the second-best round recorded by an FGCU player on the year.
The best individual round of the year was turned in by Figueroa, who was also named to the A-Sun All-Conference Second Team as he put together one of the best seasons for a freshman not only in program history but in the nation last year. His team-leading 72.8 stroke average ranked fifth in the A-Sun, and he was the team’s low man in six of nine events, owning four top 10s and six top 20s. He ranked 19th in the nation in par-3 scoring (3.08) and tied for 34th in average putts (29.7). Among all freshmen in the nation, his 3.08 par-3 scoring ranked third, and that same average also ranked as the second-best for a single season in program history. He carded the 15th-lowest round in the country with an 8-under 64 in the final round of the Cobra/PUMA Invitational as he went on to win medalist honors at FGCU’s home tournament with a 16-under par 200, good for a program 54-hole record. Finally, his 97 birdies in 2012-13 were the fourth-most in program history and among the top-5 percent in the nation.
FGCU has picked up at least one team win in each of the three seasons under Jensen, highlighted by the Fall of 2011 when the Eagles strung together an impressive four straight wins. One of FGCU’s original programs that started in 2000-01, the Green and Blue have been eligible for the NCAA Championships the last two years and have sent an individual into a regional in each of those years of eligibility.
Next up for the Eagles is another lengthy roadtrip as the team heads to the West Coast and Jensen’s alma mater, Saint Mary’s, to compete in the Saint Mary’s Invitational in Monterey, Calif., on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 23-24.