SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It will be No. 2 seed Florida and No. 5 seed Georgia Tech battling for the title on Wednesday after each won a pair of matches at the 2023 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship on Tuesday at Grayhawk Golf Club (7,289 yards/par 70). Florida rallied for a 3-2 win over No. 6 seed Florida State while Georgia Tech held off No. 1 North Carolina 3-2 to clinch their spot in the final.
Florida has won four national championships in the program’s history but none since 2001. This is the first time the Gators have qualified for the match play. They become the seventh team since match play began in 2009 to make the final in their first year of advancing past stroke play.
Georgia Tech will be playing in its first championship match, having last qualified for match play in 2014. The Yellow Jackets are looking for their first national title after placing second on four occasions.
The national championship match will be played Wednesday, May 31, at 1:35 p.m. MST (3:35 p.m. Eastern). GOLF Channel will provide live coverage 2-6 p.m. MT (4-8 p.m. Eastern).
Florida was in trouble after Florida State put the first two points on the board and was leading or tied in the three remaining matches on the course. The Gators rallied to even the match at 2-2 and set up a thrilling finish.
Needing one point to reach the finals, Ricky Castillo was 2-down through No. 15. He flipped the match by winning No. 16 and 17 and then extended the match to extra holes by halving No. 18. On the third extra hole, Castillo drained a long birdie putt to put Florida into the finals.
“An hour ago, we were just dead. It was over,” Florida Head Coach J.C. Deacon said after the win. “I honestly saw no way of winning it, but if our program’s hands are in anyone’s hands, I want it to be in Ricky’s. When he showed up on campus, this whole thing turned around, and I couldn’t be happier that he made that putt for everyone.”
Castillo added, “All I’m thinking about is giving myself a chance to win the hole. Me and Brett (Roberts) went back and forth the whole day. Neither of us had our best stuff, but I think the both of us grinded it out really well today and just fought hard, and I ended up getting the win. It was a really good match and proved what a great competitor he is.”
Fred Biondi started the Gators' rally by winning No. 17 to give him his first lead since also being 1-up through No. 6. He halved the final hole for the team’s first point. John DuBois pulled the Gators even at 2-2 when he won No. 18 to clinch his match 1-up. The win on No. 18 was his first lead since being 1-up after No. 3.
Georgia Tech also needed a comeback as they trailed North Carolina 1-0. The Yellow Jackets countered with matching 4&2 wins from Bartley Forrester and Connor Howe for a 2-1 lead with two matches remaining.
“You just have to trust their work. They’ve put in the time and gotten their deal,” Georgia Tech Head Coach Bruce Heppler shared after the match. “You need them to ask them to trust themselves, and you just have to do the same thing.”
UNC leveled the match at 2-2 to force the final match on the course to decide which team would advance to the finals. Ross Steelman was 3-up with six to play before dropping No. 13 and 14 to see his lead down to one. Steelman halved the final three holes by going par-birdie-par to put Georgia Tech into the finals.
Heppler added of Steelman, “We had a little visit before we went to ACC’s and told him that the team voted him as our anchor. He just has a focus, and I know he’s disappointed with what happened before, but I wouldn’t trust anybody more to win a match than him.”
“It’s huge for confidence. Knowing that my coach and teammates have confidence in me to go close it out if it comes down to it is awesome,” Steelman commented about being in the anchor position. “Whenever a little bit of nerves creep in, it’s a reassuring factor to think about.”
Earlier in the day, top-seed North Carolina along with Florida, Georgia Tech and Florida State each won their respective morning quarterfinal matches to advance to the two afternoon semifinal matches at Grayhawk.
The four morning quarterfinal matches were tightly contested, with North Carolina defeating No. 8 seed Arizona State, 3-1, while the other three matches were decided by identical 3-2 counts, with No. 2 Florida topping No. 7 Virginia, No. 6 Florida State defeating No. 3 Illinois and No. 5 Georgia Tech defeating No. 4 Pepperdine.
“I’m incredibly proud of our guys because they play the game the right way,” said North Carolina head coach Andrew DiBitetto. “They have so much grit, so much heart, they never gave up. Even going back to the quarterfinal match this morning, with three, four holes to go, it didn't look like it was going to go our way. But credit to a really good Georgia Tech team. Especially Ross Steelman coming down the stretch. I didn't see it, but I heard he made a clutch 12 footer on 16 and a 20 footer on 17. A big tip of the cap to them. They're an incredible team.”
MATCH PLAY SCHEDULE (Eastern time)
Quarterfinals – Tuesday, May 30
- Match #1 - #2 Florida def. #7 Virginia, 3-2
- Match #2 - #6 Florida State def. #3 Illinois, 3-2
- Match #3 - #1 North Carolina def. #8 Arizona State, 3-1
- Match #4 - #5 Georgia Tech def. #4 Pepperdine, 3-2
Semifinals – Tuesday, May 30
- Match #5 – Florida def. Florida State, 3-2
- Match #6 – Georgia Tech def. North Carolina, 3-2
Championship – Wednesday, May 31
- 3:35 p.m. – Match #7 - Florida vs. Georgia Tech GOLF Channel – 4 to 8 p.m. ET
Additional NCAA men's championships notes and quotes are available here.