“I can see many great things coming out of this program in the future,” said FGCU golfer Austin Cherichella. FGCU photo.
FGCU rising in the national ranks
FGCU men’s golf coach Andrew Danna had a simple message for his players when the first round of the program’s debut team appearance in NCAA postseason play didn’t go as they’d hoped last spring: Tomorrow is a new day and new opportunity.
In a sport known for its many mantras meant to both calm and focus the mind, Danna’s enduring optimism and proven results are as central to Florida Gulf Coast University’s recent meteoric rise as anything else. Entering his fourth season at FGCU, Danna has taken the Eagles from a lowly national ranking of No. 257 into the top 50 in the country. That follows his eight wildly successful seasons in Division II, including winning the national title at Lynn University.
Even with some impressive individual and team successes in FGCU men’s golf in the past, last year’s NCAA Regional appearance not only was its first as a team, it also was the school’s first at-large berth into NCAA postseason play for any of its perennially successful squads.
“He’s pretty simple. It’s high energy, goal driven,” said former FGCU player Van Holmgren, who won the 2021 ASUN Tournament as a transfer from North Dakota State and is now in his first season on the PGA Tour Canada. “He’s been around, so he knows what has to go into it to get results.
“He’s just a trendsetter. He came from a winning culture. He brought that with him.”
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Danna’s coaching exploits start with him taking Georgia Southwestern State to No. 1 in the D-II Golfstat national rankings while earning Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year in 2012. Then in six stellar seasons at Lynn, the program finished eighth, third and runner-up three times in the D-II NCAA tournament before finally winning the title in 2018, when Danna also was named the National Coach of the Year. After one season as an assistant coach at Louisiana State University, Danna wasted little time turning FGCU into a winner.
Following a rebuilding campaign in 2019-20, when the Eagles finished the season ranked No. 257, FGCU placed second in the ASUN Tournament, won individually by Holmgren, and surged to a then-best program ranking of No. 65 to finish the year.
Last season, the Eagles couldn’t overcome a slow start in the ASUN Tournament and finished second for the second consecutive year. But a program-best national ranking of No. 47 during the season helped FGCU earn the school’s historic first at-large NCAA Tournament invitation.
A slow first round handcuffed the Eagles again in the regional in Columbus, Ohio. But Danna’s enduring optimism helped FGCU inch forward in round two, then post a final-round score only one shot off eventual regional co-champions Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech.
“That’s something I live by and I think you use every day,” said Danna, pointing to the professional golf and other life aspirations held by his players. “Golf is already hard as it is. I like to think that they have a good outlook on the world, and they understand the realities they’re going to face. Our program helps you prepare for that step.”
Optimism and a strong work ethic are not unique to coaching. But Danna’s own authenticity in those arenas helps him identify when such traits are genuine in recruits, players say.
“He’s a good judge of character,” said Holmgren, who turned down offers and interest from SEC and Big Ten schools to transfer to FGCU midway through his junior year. “He’s got a great eye on personality. It’s hard to second-guess him because he’s been right so many times.”
At Lynn, one of those many success stories was Tomas “Toto” Gana, a Chilean who won the 2017 Latin America Amateur Championship to earn a berth in golf’s hallowed Masters Tournament. Gana’s younger brother, Lukas Roessler, is a freshman on this year’s FGCU squad.
FGCU’s most recent success story came in July, when sophomore Lucas Fallotico won the Italian Amateur Championship, shooting 67-65 the final two rounds of the 72-hole tournament to win by five strokes. Fallotico and fellow returnees Jon Hopkins, Pierre Viallaneix and Thomas Salanito also all qualified for the U.S. or British amateur championships over the summer, more evidence of a program with the talent, genuine belief and work ethic to keep seizing opportunities.
“Everybody, they just want it so badly, and they love golf so much that they want to get better,” said junior Austin Cherichella, a former ASUN All-Freshman selection who was named First Team All-Conference last year after leading FGCU with a 71.94 scoring average. “I can see many great things coming out of this program in the future. We were ranked (257th) in the country. Now we’re top 50 in just two years. If we can do that, imagine what we can do in the next two years or even the next five to 10.”