LAKELAND – There will be no easing back into the schedule for the Florida Southern men's golf team as the Moccasins return to competition this week in the 36th annual Matlock Collegiate Classic. Hosted by Florida Southern every year since 1982, the tournament typically draws the best Division II teams in the country, and this year's field may be the strongest yet. A total of 15 teams will be competing Monday and Tuesday at Lone Palm Golf Club in Lakeland, with two rounds the first day and one the second. Both days will have 8:30 a.m. shotgun starts.
As always, the Matlock Collegiate Classic provides a stern early-season test for all of the teams, and this year it features seven of the top eight ranked teams in the country. In addition to those seven, four other teams are ranked in the top-25, and three are among those receiving votes just outside the top-25 in the Bushnell Division II coaches' poll. The 15-team field also includes five of the eight teams that advanced to the match play portion of last year's Division II National Championships, and eight of the last 10 national champions.
Florida Southern appears on all of those lists, with the Moccasins beginning the spring portion of their schedule ranked No. 3 in the country. They reached the national semifinals last year, and in 2010 won the most recent of their record 12 national championships, one of five they've won under current head coach Doug Gordin. The first seven came under the late Charley Matlock, for whom the tournament was re-named in 1997. Matlock coached the Florida Southern men's golf team from 1972-95 and passed away last July at the age of 86.
Beside the third-ranked Moccasins, this year's tournament features top-ranked West Florida, No. 2 Lynn, No. 4 Barry, No. 5 Nova Southeastern, No. 7 Rollins, and No. 8 North Alabama. Saint Leo is ranked No. 12, Florida Tech No. 14, Valdosta State No. 16, and Columbus State (GA) No. 21. Among those receiving votes are Georgia College, Armstrong State (GA) and St. Edward's (TX), while Eckerd completes the field.
The list of individuals is equally impressive with six of the top 10, and 11 of the top 20 individual golfers in Division II scheduled to compete. Among them are Florida Southern junior All-Americans John VanDerLaan and John Coultas, and West Florida junior Chandler Blanchet, who are the top three ranked players in Division II. (Previous number one Hugo Bernard of Saint Leo has turned pro.)
All but one of the 15 teams also played in last year's Matlock Collegiate Classic, with North Alabama making its first appearance in the tournament since 2011. The Lions, who will be moving up to Division I status next year, have made the fewest appearances of any of the 15 teams with only two prior to this year. Other than Florida Southern, Columbus State has the most with 22 prior to this year's tournament.
This is the tenth year in a row the tournament has been played at Lone Palm Golf Club, and the 75 golfers will play a par-72 course covering 7,065 yards. After a practice round on Sunday, the tournament officially begins with a shotgun start Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. The second round will be played immediately afterwards, with the same pre-determined pairings. In Tuesday's final round, teams and players will be grouped according to their standing in the tournament. The top four individual scores in each round count toward the team score.
Florida Southern will play with West Florida and Nova Southeastern in the first two rounds, with those five groups teeing off holes one through three. (A full list of day one pairings is available here.)
The Moccasins have won their own tournament seven times, most recently in 2008. They were runner-up in 2010, 2011, and 2013, and have finished fifth the last two years. Since becoming strictly a Division II tournament in 2005, a school from the Sunshine State Conference has won the Matlock title nine out of 12 years, including each of the last five. Even more impressive for the SSC as a whole, those five champions have been five different schools: Florida Tech, Barry, Lynn, Nova Southeastern and Saint Leo.
The Saint Leo Lions won the Matlock for the first time in 2016 with a score of 869 (+5), defeating Barry and West Florida by eight shots, before going on to win their first NCAA Division II National Championship. Two years ago it was Nova Southeastern that won the Matlock and eventually the national title, and Barry did the same in 2013. Nova and Barry also set the Matlock scoring records during their championship seasons with winning scores of 26-under par 838.
Saint Leo is back to defend its Matlock title but returns only two of last year's participants: senior 2-time All-American Ryan Gendron who tied for ninth, and senior Casey Bannon who tied for 41st. (Bannon is not in the Lions' lineup at this year's Matlock.) Meanwhile, co-runner-ups West Florida and Barry each return four golfers from last year's Matlock, with five of them (three from UWF and two from Barry) placing in the top-10. Barry's Mario Beltran is the top returning individual, tying for fifth last year with a one-over par 217, though Nova Southeastern senior Richard Mansell was the Matlock runner-up in 2015 with a 10-under par 206.
Florida Southern's lineup will include Coultas and VanDerLaan who were separated by two total strokes over their 12 rounds of golf in the fall. VanDerLaan led the team with a 70.75 stroke average and Coultas was second with a 70.92 average. Coultas has already won two tournaments this year, though VanDerLaan has more top-10 finishes with three. Last year saw Coultas post the better average at 71.17, and VanDerLaan was second at 72.14. VanDerLaan, however, finished higher at the Matlock where he tied for ninth with a 219, though Coultas was just one stroke behind him with a 220.
Sophomore Christian Anderson has been Florida Southern's third golfer for most of the season, turning in a 74.50 average in the Moccasins' four tournaments during the fall. His best finish came at the Saint Leo Invitational where he shot a one-under par 215 and tied for 11th, and he also tied for 31st in a field of 96 golfers at the DII National Preview with a three-over par 219.
Chase Ibbotson, the only freshman on this year's team, has a 75.00 stroke average while playing in all four fall tournaments as the Mocs' number four finisher in three of them. Ibbotson had his best showing in the Saint Leo Invitational just as Anderson did, shooting a three-over par 219 which tied him for 22nd. He followed that with a 220 at the DII National Preview.
Four other golfers have also competed for the Moccasins this season either as the team's fifth golfer or as individuals. Of that group, sophomore Michael VanDerLaan saw the most playing time, taking part in three tournaments after playing in six last year. He's scheduled to join his brother John as one of the Moccasins' five golfers in this year's Matlock Classic after playing in last year's tournament as a freshman.