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At Valspar, Nick Gabrelcik goes from the range, to standard bearer, to weekend competitor

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At Valspar, Nick Gabrelcik goes from the range, to standard bearer, to weekend competitor

    Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62

    PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Nick Gabrelcik was a dangerous young golfer as he stepped to the first tee to begin the second round of the Valspar Championship on Friday. Already he stood 4-over par for the tournament after an opening 75, well off the projected cutline through 18 holes. He figured he had nothing to lose.

    He didn’t. That’s a dangerous player.

    By the time he got to the sixth tee, Gabrelcik had climbed all the way back to level par, and from there, the 20-year-old local amateur from the University of North Florida operated as if he was a seasoned veteran. He gave away a shot at his 10th hole, then got it right back with a birdie on the next hole. He countered the tough Copperhead Course with a mixture of grit and steadiness, closing with seven pars. By day’s end, Gabrelcik carded a brilliant 4-under 67.

    One would look at him and think he was appearing in his 100th PGA TOUR event, and not his first.

    Nick Gabrelcik chips in to save par at Valspar

    Truthfully, few if any in the field know the nuances of the Copperhead quite as well as Gabrelcik, who plays it on a daily basis in the summer months. This time, there are big stands everywhere, and thousands of fans watching him, glancing at their tee sheets, then his score, and collectively asking themselves, “So, who’sTHISkid?”

    Gabrelcik is from nearby Trinity, just 20 or so minutes away, and received an 11th-hour sponsor exemption to play at Valspar. It’s always great to get a local up-and-comer into the field. Maybe the tournament simply owed him for all the years he manned the Copperhead’s practice area during tournament week as a kid, or carried a heavy standard for 18 holes that was taller than he was.

    So he figured he had nothing to lose, which turned out to be the perfect mindset. It would deliver this start to the day for Gabrelcik: First hole, two putts from just off the green. Birdie. Second hole, fairway, approach to 8 feet. Birdie. Third hole, tee shot in fairway, 206 yards in, laser iron to 3 feet. Birdie. After taking it easy on the fourth hole (par), he laid up after a wayward tee shot at the par-5 fourth and wedged to 13 feet. Birdie. After 23 holes, he and the Copperhead had settled up all their past differences. And now the amateur is on to the weekend. (As is leading amateur Ludvig Aberg, who also made the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago.)

    By the time Gabrelcik walked off the 18th green, where he got up and down for one last par, he was on clouds, as were all those who came to watch him. That included his folks and his older brother, Donnie, an assistant club professional at Innisbrook who is on his brother’s bag this week.

    “It was awesome. I wasn't expecting everybody out here to be waiting behind the grandstands to cheer me on,” Gabrelcik said. “It was just a feeling that I don't think I will ever experience again, because you don't get a first TOUR event ever and you don't get a first cut all the time.

    “So it's just really special to me.”

    Sure, this was the first time in the spotlight for Gabrelcik, but he is not just any college player. Though not highly recruited out of high school, he is a winner of seven collegiate events at UNF, and is ranked 12th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

    College kids spend the final weekends of their Spring Breaks on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale, or Panama Beach, or maybe even Cabo. That’s great, but not quite as cool as what Nick Gabrelcik has in store. He will be playing on the weekend of his very first PGA TOUR event. Valspar just got a little more special to him.

    As for his expectations for the weekend ahead?

    “Expectations are still to win,” said Gabrelcik, who will start his weekend seven shots behind leader Adam Schenk. “It's always the goal. It never will not be the goal. So we're going to come out here, do our best, try to have as much fun as possible, obviously. That's the main goal, is just to enjoy the experience.

    “But the goal is still to come out on top.”

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