Fred Biondi. Christian Petersen
Some tournaments are won, others are lost, but this time both applied equally, ultimately rendering a verdict in favor of Florida’s Fred Biondi, the new NCAA Men’s Individual national champion.
Biondi, a senior from Brazil, began the final round five shots in arrears of leader Ross Steelman of Georgia Tech at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, a hill too steep to climb without a substantial assist from Steelman, who provided one with bogeys on his final three holes.
Steelman’s closing bogey spree resulted in a final-round score of three-over par 73. Biondi, playing a few holes behind Steelman, played his final five holes in one-under to complete a round of three-under 67, equalling the best score of the day by those finishing in the top 10. He defeated Steelman and Jackson Buchanan of Illinois by one.
“I just stayed really patient, that was the key the whole day today,” Biondi said. “No matter what happened, whether I was hitting good shots or bad shots, was to keep the same attitude, keep my head down and put the best swings I could.”
He was on the sixth hole when he first saw a leaderboard, after which he double-bogeyed the seventh hole. “I had no idea where I stood until the 15th tee,” he said. “I asked and they said I was one back.”
Moments later, he saw he was tied, and then, with three holes to play, he saw he was one ahead. “I just need to par out,” he said. He did so expertly, including a long two-putt par on the 18th green for the victory. He completed 72 holes in seven-under 273 to become the third player in Florida history to win the individual championship, joining Bob Murphy in 1966 and Nick Gilliam in 2001. Moreover, he became the first player from South America to win the title.
Steelman’s demise included one bad break, when he laid up with his tee shot on the short par-4 17th. His ball came to rest in a sand-filled divot that ultimately led to a second straight bogey. Then on 18, he blistered a drive, then pushed his second shot from only 135 yards right of the green and nearly into the water. A difficult chip and two putts later, he was down one and had to await his verdict.
Steelman seemed to take the loss in stride and will pivot immediately to the eight-team match play competition that will begin on Tuesday morning. Georgia Tech finished tied for fifth. North Carolina finished first, two shots ahead of Florida and Illinois. The other qualifiers were Pepperdine, Florida State, Virginia and Arizona State.
Top-seeded Vanderbilt, in the upset of the competition, failed to advance, tying for 11th and finishing nine strokes back of Arizona State.
Ludvig Aberg of Texas Tech, No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, also had a disappointing tournament, finishing tied for 29th in his final amateur event. He finished first in the PGA Tour University standings, giving him a tour exemption for the rest of this year and all of next season.