2006 Notre Dame graduate Mark Baldwin will make his first career PGA Tour start this weekend at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas, Nevada

Irish Face Strong Field At Augusta State Invitational

March 30, 2006

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Notre Dame gets into the heart of its 2006 spring schedule this weekend when it travels to Evans, Ga., for the Administaff Augusta State Invitational. The first two rounds will take place Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. (ET), with the final round scheduled to tee off Sunday at 10 a.m. (ET) from the Champions Retreat Golf Club (par 72/7,265 yards). The tournament should be one of the strongest of the season for the Irish, with seven top-30 teams, including five top-25 clubs in the field.

Notre Dame continues to enjoy one of its most successful seasons ever in 2005-06, currently posting a 293.62 stroke average with five top-six finishes and three wins over nationally-ranked opponents. The Irish also have seen two of their tri-captains ranked among the top 100 according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, led by senior Mark Baldwin, who is ranked at No. 78 and holds a team-best 72.57 stroke average. Senior Scott Gustafson is ranked 92nd with a 72.86 stroke average, while junior Cole Isban (a 2005 PING All-Midwest Region selection) isn’t far behind with a 73.33 stroke average.

Quoting Coach Kubinski…
“Certainly just saying `Augusta’ conjures up thoughts of championship golf and signifies a true beginning to the new golf season for many golfers around the country. I feel we’re ready to start playing our best game. We had such a solid and consistent fall season that would have ended with us ranked in the Top 20 if not for an unfortunate rules situation. Augusta affords us an opportunity to play possibly the strongest field of the year and show that we’re closer to the team we were in the Fall than the one that has played three Spring events.

“We’ve added our lone freshman, Josh Sandman, to the mix this weekend. Josh is making his Notre Dame debut after a strong junior golf career and has played very well of late. He has recovered from a nagging back ailment and looks to be in great form. We played three qualifying rounds this past week and Josh finished behind only Cole (Isban) and Scott (Gustafson). He is driving the ball well and long, and he always exhibits a great short game. I think he’ll add something to the mix and, as he leans on our older players, should gain a great deal of experience this week.”

Dates and Times
Teams will play two rounds (36 holes) on Saturday, with the opening round teeing off via a shotgun start at 8 a.m. (ET). The second round will begin immediately following the conclusion of round one. Competitors will then return to the course Sunday at 10 a.m. (ET) for the final round with preassigned tee times based upon the 36-hole standings. Should weather delay the second round, it would resume at 8 a.m. (ET) on Sunday.

Tournament Results
Live scoring for this weekend’s Administaff Augusta State Invitational will be provided through the Golfstat web site (www.golfstat.com). Complete results following each day’s action also will be posted on the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.und.com). In addition, the latest information on the Irish is available on the Notre Dame Sports Hotline (574-631-3000). Callers should select option #9, then press #2 for the latest information on the tournament, as well as weather or scheduling delays.

The Tournament Format
A total of 15 five-man teams (75 participants, with the possibility of some teams fielding additional golfers on an individual basis) will be participating in the Administaff Augusta State Invitational. Conventional collegiate golf team scoring rules will apply, with the lowest four scores in the five-man lineup for each round counting toward the team total.

The Teams
Aside from Notre Dame and host school Augusta State, the rest of the 15-team field for the Border Olympics includes: Clemson, Coastal Carolina, East Tennessee State, Georgia Southern, LSU, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina State, South Carolina-Aiken, Tennessee, UCLA, Virginia Tech and Washington.

According to the latest GCAA/Bridgestone Top 25 poll (released Thursday), more than half (eight) of the 14 Division I teams in this weekend’s field (USC-Aiken is a Division II entity) are either ranked or receiving votes. UCLA leads the Top 25 list at No. 5, receiving one first-place vote in the current balloting. Also in the mix are 10th-ranked East Tennessee State, No. 14 Tennessee, No. 15 Clemson and No. 21 Coastal Carolina. Three squads are receiving votes in the latest coaches’ survey — Washington (56 votes, 26th), Minnesota (39 votes, 30th) and North Carolina State (eight votes, 46th).

Meanwhile, the newest ratings in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of Sunday night) have been compiled and 10 of the top 50 teams will be playing in Georgia this weekend. Up front is No. 5 UCLA, followed by 11th-ranked East Tennessee State, No. 12 Tennessee, No. 14 Clemson, 23rd-ranked Minnesota and 24th-ranked Coastal Carolina. In the second half of the top 50 are No. 27 North Carolina State, No. 31 Washington, 47th-ranked LSU and 48th-ranked Augusta State. Notre Dame is just outsde the top 50, currently checking in 56th.

In addition, the latest Golfstat rankings of the 2005-06 season were unveiled Tuesday and there are 10 of this weekend’s participants appearing in that service’s Top 50. UCLA tops the field at No. 5, with No. 9 East Tennessee State, No. 12 Tennessee, No. 18 Clemson and 20th-ranked Minnesota completing the first 25. Coastal Carolina is on the doorstep in 27th, Washington is No. 28, with North Carolina State (33rd) and LSU (45th) in the running. Notre Dame is among several participating teams just outside the top 50 at No. 56. In addition, USC-Aiken remains the top-ranked team in the Division II standings.

The Course
Following a successful 27-year run at Forest Hills Golf Club, this year’s Administaff Augusta State Invitational will be played at a new locale, the Champions Retreat Golf Club (par 72/7,265 yards) in Evans, Ga. The brand-new 27-hole layout opened in 2005 and features three distinct nine-hole courses designed by the masters of the game — Jack Nicklaus (Bluffs Nine), Arnold Palmer (Island Nine) and Gary Player (Creek Nine).

This weekend’s tournament will utilize the Nicklaus Bluffs Nine (par 36/3,660 yards) and the Palmer Island Nine (par 36/3,605 yards). The Nicklaus layout fits nicely into the rolling Georgia terrain, offering a variety of elevations and doglegs to handle. Meanwhile, the Palmer course uniquely plays onto a 280-acre island bordered by the Savannah River and Little River and the challenging tree-lined fairways provide a distinctly southern feel to the players.

A History Lesson
In a little more than a quarter century of existence starting in 1979, the Administaff Augusta State Invitational has traditionally been one of the premier stops on the spring college golf circuit. In fact, this weekend’s event will mark the sixth consecutive year that a minimum of seven top-30 clubs will be competing. The host school Augusta State has won 11 titles in the tournament’s 27-year history, including six of the past eight crowns.

Tourney Rewind: ’05 Augusta State Invitational
Notre Dame had one of its strongest outings of the 2004-05 season, battling well to a seventh-place finish at the 18-team Augusta State Invitational on April 2-3, 2005, at the Forest Hills Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. The Irish defeated five ranked teams during the weekend and finished with a score of 61-over par 926 in extremely windy conditions, finishing 29 shots behind tourney champion Augusta State.

The top three finishers for Notre Dame at last year’s ASU Invitational were Cole Isban (tie-15th, 228), Mark Baldwin (tie-27th, 233) and Scott Gustafson (tie-40th, 235), and thus, it’s no coincidence that this trio will form the core of the Irish lineup this weekend. In fact, Baldwin and Gustafson will be playing in the event for the third year in a row, having tied for 18th (218) and 35th (222), respectively, back in 2004 when Notre Dame tied for 14th place at 892 (+28) in its first-ever visit to the tournament.

Measuring Stick
A good indication of the progress Notre Dame has made in the short time Jim Kubinski has been head coach can be found in the team’s stroke average. Currently at 293.62, it would shatter the old school record by more than four shots (298.29 in 1999-2000). In addition, the Irish presently have three players with stroke averages at 74.00 or lower (min. 10 rounds) — Mark Baldwin (72.57), Scott Gustafson (72.86) and Cole Isban (73.33). In the 77-year history of the Notre Dame program, the Irish have never had a trio score lower than 75.32 for an entire season (1999-2000 — Todd Vernon at 74.18, Steve Ratay at 74.54 and Alex Kent at 75.32).

One other item to watch is Notre Dame’s progress on a round-by-round basis in each tournament. This season, the Irish are averaging a 295.57 in their opening round before trimming that score to 293 in round two. Notre Dame has closed strong as well, firing a 292.29 on average this season.

Last Tournament — Border Olympics
Senior tri-captain Mark Baldwin carded a three-over par 219 (71-75-73), helping Notre Dame finish in eighth place at the 55th annual Border Olympics, which wrapped up on March 18 at the Laredo Country Club (par 72/7,241 yards) in Laredo, Texas. The Irish compiled a three-round score of 24-over par 888 (293-296-299) and ended up 33 shots behind tournament winner Baylor.

Sophomore Mike King was just one shot behind Baldwin in a 21st-place tie at a season-low four-over par 220 (75-71-74), earning his best finish of the spring and second-best of his career as a member of the Irish travel squad (ninth at the 2005 BIG EAST Conference Championship). Senior tri-captain Scott Gustafson earned a share of 36th place at seven-over par 223 (75-74-74). Junior tri-captain Cole Isban was tied for 51st place at 10-over par 226 (72-76-78). Senior Eric Deutsch, playing his first tournament of the spring, completed the scoring for the Irish in a deadlock for 71st place at 18-over par 234 (79-76-79).

Thumbnails On The Irish Lineup
Mark Baldwin (72.57; first on team) — Presently ranked 78th in nation by Golfweek … has team-best 12 rounds of par or better this season (eight under par), with three rounds in the 60s … has ended up 20th or higher in 11 of past 15 events … has seen 40 of his last 43 rounds (.930) — and all 18 this season — counted towards the team score (not counting 2005 CordeValle after team DQ) … has seven career top-10 finishes (three this year), with six of those coming in little more than one year (Oct. 2004-present) … two-time all-BIG EAST (2003; 2005 – medalist).

Scott Gustafson (72.86; second on team) — 92nd-ranked player in nation by Golfweek … has shot eight rounds at par or better (five below par with two in the 60s), standing third on team … 20 of 21 rounds (.952) this year have counted to team score … earned share of fifth place at General Jim Hackler Invitational (215, -1) for his ninth career top-10 finish and 14th team-leading finish (third in school history) … second among Irish veterans with 75.08 career stroke average (ninth in school history) … 2003 all-BIG EAST selection. Cole Isban (73.33 stroke average; third on team) — Has recorded nine rounds this year at par or better (seven under par), with four rounds in the 60s … owns two top-10 finishes this season (10 career) … has been exceptionally reliable, as 84 of his 91 collegiate rounds (.923) have counted towards the team score (third-best percentage by Irish golfer since 1990) … career 74.37 stroke average is tops in school history (second: 74.43 by Charles Thurn, 1956-58) … 2005 PING/All-Midwest Region selection (first Irish player to earn regional or national accolades since 1980) … two-time all-BIG EAST Conference honoree (2004, 2005).

Mike King (75.72; fifth on team) — Has looked sharp in spring with career-low 74.67 stroke average to date … owns three rounds under par, including one in the 60s … had three top-10 finishes in nine starts as a rookie, including tie for ninth at the BIG EAST Championship.

Josh Sandman — Freshman makes college debut this weekend … marks the fourth consecutive season that an Irish rookie has made the travel squad … reached third round of match play at last summer’s North & South Amateur Championship at Pinehurst, N.C., eventually falling to a member of this weekend’s field, USC-Aiken’s Dane Burkhart by a 3 & 2 score (Burkhart was then eliminated in the next round by another Notre Dame player, sophomore Eddie Peckels).

Next Up For The Irish
Notre Dame has little time to relax, as the Irish will venture across the state of Indiana for the Boilermaker Invitational April 8-9 in West Lafayette, Ind, at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex (Kampen Course). Some early schedules for the Irish listed this event at another date, but due to scheduling changes, the tournament has been moved to its present date. This will mark Notre Dame’s 22nd appearance in a tournament hosted by Purdue, having won the 1979 Purdue Invitational title.