Photo by C. Morgan Engel | Getty Images

More than two months before the trumpets and fanfare of national championships, Fred Biondi teared up on Southern Highlands’ ninth fairway in Las Vegas.

He rode into the Gators’ third event of the season on a high. He won the individual title at the Sea Best Invitational to kick off the spring and followed it up with a T11 at Florida’s home event. He finished in a tie for second in the Southern Highlands Collegiate a year ago. Everything pointed to another banner week for the All-American.

Biondi never broke 75 that week. He didn’t make a birdie until his 28th hole and managed only three for the tournament. He finished 81st at +17, 30 strokes behind teammate and individual champion Yuxin Lin.

“I remember working really hard for it and showing up and literally having nothing,” Biondi said at a Thursday press conference. “Golf will humble you a lot.”

Two months later, at another desert course, Biondi had the week of his life. He completed a furious Monday comeback with a 3-under 67 to come from five strokes back for the individual NCAA title. Two days later, he won the championship-clinching point with a clutch birdie on the 17th hole and a two-putt par at the last to cement Florida’s first national championship in 22 years.

Biondi’s 20-month journey from nearly losing his starting spot to national champion didn’t spring from the humility golf loves to offer, however. It came from newfound self-confidence.

Florida head coach J.C. Deacon always saw flashes of brilliance in the young Brazilian’s swing. It was hard not to after the hundreds of hours he’d looked it over, both in-person and through recordings as Biondi beat balls into the humid Gainesville sky. But Deacon saw his gifts wrapped within a player unable to trust himself with every swing, and Biondi finished in the top 10 once during his first two seasons in Gainesville.

After a second-round 77 at the 2021 Isleworth Collegiate left Biondi in a tie for 43rd, Deacon’s patience with the then-junior wore thin.

“I told Fred, ‘I’m never putting you in the lineup again if you can’t go out there and play without trusting yourself,'” Deacon said. “You’ve got to go out there and do it when it matters.”

Biondi shot 67 the next day to finish T13. He hasn’t left Florida’s lineup since.

“He’s never looked back,” Deacon said.

Photo by Christian Petersen | Getty Images

After a T2 finish at the Latin America Amateur Championship the next January, Biondi’s first collegiate win came a month later, a four-stroke triumph at the VyStar Gators Invitational after a scintillating first-round 63 at UF’s home course. His second came three events later at the Calusa Cup down in Naples, where he entered the final round seven strokes back and hunted down the leaders with a 4-under 68. He paced the team with a 70.1 scoring average that season and went 2-0-1 in match play at the SEC Championships, a resume which resulted in a spot as a Ping First Team All-American.

He nabbed two more trophies this past spring, including the Augusta Haskins Award Invite one month after his fateful event in Vegas. But the biggest test of his newfound confidence, and its biggest reward, came at Greyhawk Golf Club Monday through Wednesday.

“You just have to stay really patient (at Greyhawk),” Biondi said. “Take a lot of lines that aren’t even close to the flags and just kind of map your way around the course a little smarter.”

Biondi trusted his game when he started the final round of the individual tournament five strokes back. He trusted his game when he made a costly double-bogey on the 7th hole. He trusted his game when he made back-to-back birdies on 9 and 10 to firmly enter the title fight. And most importantly, he trusted his game when he braved the water hazard on the 18th hole, safely found the green and two-putted for victory.

When Deacon challenged him at Isleworth nearly two years ago, Biondi chose to channel it as a way to improve. After Southern Highlands challenged him in February, rather than dwell in the negativity, he said he made a conscious decision to follow the same path.

In the process, he forever etched himself into the annals of Florida golf history.

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