May 21, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — One of the well-known slogans associated with Notre Dame athletics calls upon Irish athletes to “play like a champion.” Following Saturday’s final round at the NCAA Central Regional, the Notre Dame men’s golf team lived up to that motto … and then some.
Finding themselves 12 strokes and 10 places away from qualifying for the NCAA Championship entering Saturday’s action, the Irish played brilliant even-par golf for much of the day and had pulled into a tie for the 10th and final NCAA berth as their last three golfers came to the final two holes at Notre Dame’s demanding Warren Golf Course (par 70/7,011 yards). However, a pair of bogeys in those last two holes did just enough to douse the Irish dreams of their first NCAA finals berth since 1966, as Notre Dame finished 13th overall in the 27-team field at 37-over par 877 (293-302-282), tying with Kansas and Michigan State.
Despite the emotional setback, the Irish could be proud of the fact that they posted their best single-round score ever in NCAA play on Saturday (282), as well as the third-lowest single-round mark in school history (tied), and the third-lowest 18-hole team score at this year’s Central Regional. Also, for the second consecutive year, Notre Dame showed it could compete with some of the top teams in the nation, contending for a berth in the NCAA Championship right down to the very end (the Irish finished in 12th place, four strokes out of a finals spot in last year’s Central Regional).
“It was pretty incredible,” first-year Notre Dame head coach Jim Kubinski said. “We had a good team meeting before we played today and we said that we needed to shoot 280. We had a plan to just keep it a couple over and be reasonable on the back side (of the course), where we started, and then on the front side, we felt like we could make some birdies and we did. I think just a couple bogeys on the last three holes is what really decided it. If we par in, we’d probably be okay. But I’m just blown away with how they did. I was actually a little emotional during the round when I was walking around out there seeing just how hard they were fighting and they gave it everything they had.”
For the second year in a row, junior Eric Deutsch (Rochester, Minn./Lourdes HS) led the way for the Irish at the NCAA Central Regional, finishing tied for 20th place overall at five-over par 215 (73-74-68). In addition, his final-round 68 was the best mark ever carded by a Notre Dame player in NCAA competition, two shots better than Rian McNally’s 70 in the first round of the 1966 NCAA Championship. Deutsch also tied his career-low round, which he had set in the opening round of the 2002 SMU/Stonebridge Invitational.
Sophomore Cole Isban (South Bend, Ind./Mishawaka Marian HS) did his part to help Notre Dame this weekend, tying for 30th place at seven-over par 217 (73-73-71). Isban’s 71 on Saturday tied for the third-lowest round by an Irish golfer in NCAA play, and it helped the second-year standout finish among the top 30 in all 13 tournaments he played in this season.
Perhaps no Notre Dame player better symbolized the team’s fighting spirit than junior Mark Baldwin (Laconia, N.H./New Hampton Prep), who bogeyed three of his first five holes on Saturday, only to respond with four birdies in a seven-hole stretch and wind up in a tie for 50th place at 10-over par 220 (72-77-71). Baldwin was arguably the most improved player on the Irish roster this season, twice earning medalist honors (including the BIG EAST Conference Championship) and breaking a 42-year-old school record by shooting 63 (-7) in a dual match vs. 11th-ranked TCU at the Warren Golf Course last month.
Despite having no postseason experience under his belt, freshman Mike King (Sidney, Ohio/Sidney HS) played a critical role in Saturday’s comeback by Notre Dame, carding a two-over par 72 en route to an 88th-place tie overall at 15-over par 225 (75-78-72). In fact, it was King who expertly weaved 13 pars around a birdie and bogey to start his round before a pair of late bogeys set him back somewhat.
Junior Scott Gustafson (Eden Prairie, Minn./Eden Prairie HS) rounded out the scoring for the Irish, finishing in 138th place at 33-over par 243 (85-81-77). Gustafson showed steady improvement in all three of his rounds at the NCAA Central Regional, as he continues to recover from injuries sustained in an automobile accident last fall.
This weekend’s Central Regional also capped off a whirlwind four-month run for Kubinski, who took over as Notre Dame’s head coach in late January. He promptly steered the Irish to a 58-35-4 (.619) record this spring, including two tournament titles, the program’s second consecutive BIG EAST Championship and NCAA regional berth, and nearly Notre Dame’s first trip to the NCAA Championship in 39 years.
Kubinski will have much to work with next season as he looks to continue the Irish resurgence on the links. Notre Dame has nine monogram winners returning in 2005-06, including all five competitors from this year’s NCAA Central Regional. The Irish also will welcome to the fold incoming freshman Josh Sandman (Greensboro, N.C./Southeast Guilford HS), who has been ranked among the top 40 high school seniors in the country this year and boasted a 72.69 stroke average in junior tournaments during the past year.
— ND —