Parker Bell helped UF reach the NCAA Championships with a standout performance in the Regionals ... then qualified for the U.S. Open the following week. Photo: Ashley Ray/UAA Communications

After Earning U.S. Open Spot, UF’s Bell Has Eyes on Helping Gators Repeat

On the long walks between holes during his rounds, and the brief pauses before taking his shots, Florida golfer Parker Bell takes deep breaths and focuses on his breathing.

For Bell, after hitting a few bumps during his sophomore season, the biggest adjustment he had to make was keeping a clear head between shots.

“[UF men’s golf head] coach [J.C.] Deacon [paired] me with a mental coach in between SEC and regionals, and he really has me focus a lot on my process before I hit the shot,” Bell said. “If you really focus on that, your mind doesn’t have time to think about what could go wrong.”

It came in handy in a big way in one of the biggest moments of his young career.

At the Dallas Athletic Club final-round U.S. Open qualifier on Tuesday, Bell took a deep breath and looked at the leaderboard on the 17th tee in his second round during the 36-hole event. At 3-under for the tournament, he likely only had to make two pars on his final two holes to be in position to qualify for his first Open.

Parker Bell has emerged for the Gators after only playing in four tournaments as a freshman.
Parker Bell has emerged for the Gators after only playing in four tournaments as a freshman. Photo: Ashley Ray/UAA Communications

“The pars did not come easy,” Bell said. “I had to hit a ridiculous hook shot around the trees on 17 to get it on the green and two-putted there, and then had to get up-and-down with a wedge from 80 yards for par on 18 and make like a 10-footer. And I ended up doing it.”

With the top 11 golfers in the Dallas qualifier earning a place in the Open, the Tallahassee native finished in a seven-way tie for sixth place after shooting rounds of 70 and 69 in the 36-hole tournament … meaning he ended up in a seven-way tie for one of the final six spots. He needed to go to playoff — one that also included 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who now needed to qualify for the Open after his move to the LIV Tour — to advance.

In the playoff, Bell was in the second group of golfers. He knew Garcia had bogeyed in the group ahead of him. The end was in sight — all he had to do was make par.

He made a birdie instead.

That gave the UF men’s golf team standout a spot in the 2024 U.S. Open in Pinehurst, North Carolina —  his first career berth in a major golf tournament. The U.S. Open will take place from June 13-16, and Bell will compete as an amateur alongside more than 150 golfers.

“The regionals really gave me a lot of confidence that I could compete,” Bell said. “So going into that U.S. Open qualifier it was just — I know I have the game to do it, to qualify, it’s just a matter of being able to do it.”

It was part of a whirlwind week for Bell.

Just days after qualifying for the U.S. Open, Bell rejoined the rest of the Gators team in Carlsbad, California, where Florida will compete in the NCAA Championships for the fourth consecutive season. For Bell, who played in just four events for UF as a freshman last season, this will be his first appearance in the national championships.

“I couldn’t be more excited to go out there this week and compete with the boys and try to retain that championship that we have,” he said.

UF fifth-year senior John DuBois said Bell’s game has improved a lot recently.

“We’re close teammates and we go back and forth all the time,” DuBois said. “His game has been really sharp lately, and his development has come a long way.”

Despite losing three All-Americans from last season’s title-winning team — Yuxin Lin, Ricky Castillo and Fred Biondi — the Gators are back trying to secure another NCAA championship, thanks in large part to the emergence of guys like Bell and freshman Jack Turner.

“You just knew one of those three guys [Biondi, Castillo and Lin in 2023] was going to do something big, probably every day,” Deacon said. “This team was built different. We need everyone to go on at the same time. So it’s not like you can have one guy just take the week off and nail it in, we need all five guys playing their best and focused and committed and doing all the right things.”

Bell helped secure Florida’s spot in the NCAA Championships, shooting 70-70-72 in the Gators’ NCAA Regional in West Lafayette, Indiana, to propel UF to a third-place finish. Bell’s aggregate total of 212 was good enough for T8 in the individual competition as well.

“Guys like Jack and Parker, who have just gotten better and better, have really been huge for the team, especially the last few events,” UF junior golfer Ian Gilligan said.

Florida men's golf coach J.C. Deacon (left) has been able to get the most out of UF sophomore Parker Bell.
Florida men’s golf coach J.C. Deacon (left) has been able to get the most out of UF sophomore Parker Bell. Photo: Ashley Ray/UAA Communications

Bell committed to Florida as a ninth-grader, but struggled with maintaining his game throughout high school, Deacon said. Even as a freshman last year, Bell wasn’t a factor. Deacon said Bell’s growth from last summer to now can be chalked up to a moment when he challenged the young golfer.

“I’ve probably been harder on Parker than maybe any player I’ve ever had,” Deacon said. “He was maybe the most immature player I’ve ever had show up at Florida, and (I) just really challenged him to grow up as a man, to grow up as a leader and a teammate.”

The approach seems to have worked.

Last summer, Bell started to break through. He earned a spot in the U.S. Amateur Semifinals before falling to Alabama’s Nick Dunlap, which also nearly earned him a spot in the 2024 Masters. He continued to improve throughout the season and took a large leap from his quiet freshman year to now.

“We’ve had some tough conversations for sure in the past year,” Bell said. “At the time of the tough conversations, I sometimes thought that it wasn’t what’s best for me. But I’ve learned now that he just did those things to make me better and that he really believes in me as a player.”

Now Bell turns his attention to the NCAA Championships, where he starts play at the Omni La Costa course at the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships on Friday as the Gators begin their quest to repeat. He’ll then head to Pinehurst for the U.S. Open in a little more than two weeks.

Florida advanced to its fourth consecutive NCAA men's golf championship and 57th overall.
Florida advanced to its fourth consecutive NCAA men’s golf championship and 57th overall. Photo Courtesy: Ashley Ray/UAA

Deacon said it’s a moment that Bell has been building toward.

“I remember last year talking to [Bell] after we won all those championships,” Deacon said. “He said, ‘Yeah, coach, I want to be taking those shots.’ And he’s done it, and now he’s hitting those shots, and he’s really enjoying it.”

For Bell, he’s simply trying to enjoy the moment — and keep a clear head.

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel,” Bell said. “Maybe when I get there and see all these guys that I’ve watched on TV since I was a kid, it’ll probably sink in then. But, right now, it’s just like I have to go right back to business this week.”

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