When Notre Dame head coach Debby King took over the Irish women’s golf team in August of 2001, she was given the task of taking Notre Dame women’s golf to the next level, making it into a top-25 program and one of the elite programs in the nation. In two-and-a-half seasons, on the strength of higher-caliber recruits and a quality schedule, King has Notre Dame in position to earn its first berth in the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships and on the path to becoming a contender for a national championship.
Notre Dame enters this season after winning the first-ever BIG EAST Women’s Golf Championship which was hosted by the Irish at the Warren Golf Course in the spring of 2003. The progress of Notre Dame women’s golf is even more evident in the unprecedented success experienced this fall. School records fell and career bests were set as the Irish accomplished numerous milestones in the fall of 2003.
“The team was ranked 107th when I first started, and it’s great to see where we are in the country now after a little less than two-and-a-half years,” said King.
“It was great to win the first BIG EAST tournament on our home course. This fall has been pretty amazing. I originally was expecting to break the top 50 by season’s end and we have already achieved that mark. Our first goal was to shoot 309 every round and we keep outshooting that total. As the fall went on, we had to keep rethinking our goals for the season.”
The team actually finished the fall schedule shooting lower than 309 in nine consecutive rounds (three tournaments) and in 13 of 18 fall rounds played en route to a school-record stroke average of 303.89, more than 12 strokes better than the 316.29 turned in by last season’s squad. The 2003-04 Irish have already recorded the top three (285, 291, 294) and eight of the top 10 rounds in the 16-year history of the program. Notre Dame also shattered the program’s previous top 54-hole total of 932 in four of the team.s six tournaments, firing scores of 889, 892, 902 and 908.
Notre Dame also won three fall tournaments (Cougar Classic, Notre Dame Invitational, Edwin Watts/Palmetto Intercollegiate) after winning three tournaments in a single season only once before (2000-01).
Members of the ’03-’04 Irish squad carded some impressive individual scores in the fall as well, which led to 11 top-10 finishes. After only five sub-72 rounds in Notre Dame history prior to this season, there were four such rounds turned in during the fall of 2003, including a new school record for lowest individual round (69). In addition, the top eight 54-hole totals of all-time were shot this fall.
Coach King has enjoyed her team’s success this fall and believes strong team chemistry and a new confidence has prepared the squad to carry their impressive ways into the spring portion of the 2003-04 campaign.
Freshman Noriko Nakazaki turned in top-10 performances in her first four collegiate tournaments.
“I feel the chemistry between all classes is great and that has helped the team improve as a group,” says King.
“Our freshmen have been impact players, and the upperclassmen have really stepped it up to where they are playing to their potential. Psychologists will say confidence comes first before you do well. I believe that confidence comes from doing well. I think once the team started shooting some of these great scores, they started to think that they really are good. It has snowballed from there and now they go out expecting to shoot low scores.”
If Notre Dame can continue its stellar play, the Irish will be in competition for a spot in the NCAA Regionals in May. King believes the potential is there not only for securing a berth in the 2004 Women’s Golf Championships, but also to be another step closer to the ultimate goal of winning a national championship.
“If we get a 300 scoring average, and keep playing this way in the spring, we have a chance to be in position to make the NCAA Regionals,” says King.
“We are in a process right now. I see this team continuing to improve to where we will make it to the final championships of the NCAAs someday. I believe we can win a national championship here at Notre Dame.”
One of this season’s leaders is Noriko Nakazaki (Hanover Park, Ill.), one of two highly-talented freshmen from King.s second recruiting class. The Irish newcomer led Notre Dame throughout the fall, turning in top-10 performances in her first four collegiate tournaments and finishing as the top Irish golfer in four of the team’s first five fall events. Nakazaki set two school records en route to a second-place finish in her first collegiate tournament, firing a 69 in the first round at the Cougar Classic for the lowest round in the program.s history and shooting a school-low, one-over par 217 (69-72-76) for 54 holes.
A calm, yet strong player, Nakazaki ended the fall campaign as the team’s leader in stroke average with a school-record 74.89. Nakazaki was a consistent presence on the course, playing in all six of Notre Dame.s fall tournaments and turning in scores of 76 or lower in 15 of 18 rounds. She also had 17 of 18 rounds (94.4%) count toward team scoring.
Right behind Nakazaki in scoring is sophomore Katie Brophy (Spokane, Wash.). Brophy continues to make significant contributions to the program after being named team MVP last season and earning co-medalist honors at the inaugural BIG EAST Championship in 2003. The school’s leader in career stroke average (77.50), Brophy played in all six tournaments in the fall of .03 and had a 75.72 stroke average. She also had 17 of 18 rounds played (94.4%) count toward team scoring.
Brophy’s best performance of the fall came at the Shootout at the Legends of Indiana where she fired a career-low 54-hole total of five-over par 221 (75-72-74), which is the third-best 54-hole mark in program history. Her second-round 72 was the first 18-hole score of even par or better in her Notre Dame career. Brophy concluded the fall with a career-low 71 in the third round of the Edwin Watts/Palmetto Intercollegiate where she tied for sixth with a 224 (75-78-71).
Sophomore Sarah Bassett (Spokane, Wash.) continued to make her presence felt in the fall of ’03 after an impressive freshman campaign in 2002-03. Currently second in Notre Dame history with a 78.68 career stroke average in 37 rounds, Bassett had the best semester of her career this fall as she closed out the slate third on the team in stroke average with a 76.78 in nine rounds of play (seven counting to the team’s score). Her prior top average for a semester was 77.86 last fall, which helped her finish second on the team in stroke average for the entire ’02-’03 season with a 79.29.
Bassett led the Irish to a win at the Notre Dame Invitational in her first appearance of the season. The determined golfer secured the first top-five finish of her career by taking third place out of a field of 93 with rounds of 75, 78 and 77 for a 54-hole score of 230. Bassett followed that strong outing with a career-low 54-hole total of 226 (77-73-76) at the Shootout at the Legends.
Sophomore Sarah Bassett continued her strong play in the fall of 2003 by finishing third on the Irish with a 76.78 average, which included a third-place finish at the Notre Dame Invitiational.
The second member of the freshmen class, Stacy Brown (The Woodlands, Texas), also has made an early impact on the Irish program. Brown played as a member of the scoring lineup in four fall tournaments while also participating in the adidas Fall Invitational as an individual entrant. The newcomer finished the fall schedule fourth with a 77.80 average in 15 rounds played.
An athletic competitor who works hard at improving her game, Brown was a difference maker for Notre Dame throughout the fall. She began the season by shooting an even-par 72 in her first collegiate round at the Cougar Classic where she helped the Irish earn a team title with her 54-hole score of 229. After her outstanding first-round total, she struggled with an 83 in the second round, but showed a sense of resiliency and finished the team’s first fall tourney with a 74.
Brown concluded her first semester at Notre Dame with the top 54-hole performance of her young career. She earned her first top-10 finish for the Irish at the Edwin Watts/Palmetto Intercollegiate, tying for sixth place after carding a pair of 73.s and a final-round 78 for an eight-over par 224.
Senior co-captain Shannon Byrne (Arlington Heights, Ill.) has been a regular in the Irish lineup since her freshman year. One of the most consistent golfers the program has ever had, Byrne played in the first 34 tournaments of her career and has played in 36 of 37 tournaments overall with an 80.38 career average, which is good for fourth on the all-time list.
In the fall, Byrne had a stroke average of 78.20 and turned in the lowest 54-hole total of her outstanding Notre Dame career. She set two career bests at the season-opening Cougar Classic where she was one of three Irish golfers to finish in the top 10, guiding the team to the tournament victory. Byrne tied for seventh place after shooting a career-low round of 70 in the first round, which she followed with scores of 79 and 74 for a career-best, seven-over par total of 223.
Another top returning player is perennial contributor Karen Lotta (Los Angeles, Calif.). The junior owns the third-lowest career stroke average in school history with a 79.95 in 64 rounds of play and has turned in seven top-10 finishes in two-and-a-half seasons.
Lotta played in four fall events, three as a member of the scoring five. The sixth golfer to record a sub-80 average for the fall, Lotta had a stroke average of 78.92 in her 12 rounds of play. Lotta’s best outing of the fall came at the Edwin Watts/Palmetto Intercollegiate where she set a career-low 54-hole total with a 225 (78-75-72).
Next for the Irish are two sophomores, Suzie Hayes (Dublin, Ireland) and Lauren Gebauer (Columbus, Ohio). After earning all-BIG EAST honors in 2002-03, Hayes played in four fall tournaments and had an average of 80.08.
Hayes gave her best to the team in her final two appearances of the fall, the Shootout at the Legends and the adidas Fall Invitational. In Franklin, Ind., Hayes shot 239 (83-75-81) on the strength of her second-round 75, which was a career low for the Ireland native. In the third round at the Palm Harbor, Fla., tournament, Hayes matched her career-best round and fired a career-low 54-hole total of 18-over par 234 (76-83-75).
Gebauer had a stroke average of 80.67 for play in three tournaments during the fall of ’03, the Notre Dame Invitational (individual entrant), Shootout at the Legends and adidas Fall Invitational.
Gebauer’s top performance of the season came at the adidas Fall Invitational where she tied for 31st with a career-best 232 for 54 holes. In between two 18-hole marks of 80, Gebauer had a career-low, even-par 72 in the second round at the Notre Dame-hosted event.
Senior Rebecca Rogers (Alpharetta, Ga.) and junior Casey Rotella (Keswick, Va.) round out the Notre Dame squad for 2003-04. Both golfers participated as individuals in the Notre Dame Invitational this fall.
Rogers, a three-time monogram winner, will serve as a co-captain of the team as she has demonstrated leadership qualities on and off the field throughout her career.
The 2000 Notre Dame Invitational individual medalist, Rogers shot 252 (87-82-83) in her lone appearance of the fall at the Warren Golf Course. Rogers is now eighth in career stroke average on the program’s all-time list (82.66).
This fall, Rotella was on the course for the Irish for the first time in more than a season after sitting out all of the 2002-03 campaign with an arm injury. A left-hander, Rotella tied Rogers at the Notre Dame Invitational with a 54-hole score of 252 (84-81-85).
As the talent level of the Irish continues to improve, so too does the schedule. In the spring, Notre Dame will play in very competitive fields in such tournaments as the Baylor/Tapito Springs Shootout. Notre Dame also will once again host the BIG EAST Women’s Golf Championship in April as it attempts to defend its conference title and secure that first-ever berth in the NCAA tournament.