Junior Josh Sandman shot a career-low 212 (-4) and tied for sixth place at the Schenkel E-Z-GO Invitational, which wrapped up on Sunday afternoon in Statesboro, Ga.

Irish Head To Oklahoma For Final Event Before NCAA Regional

May 12, 2006

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Less than a week before making its third consecutive NCAA regional appearance (and 33rd overall trip to NCAA postseason play), Notre Dame will take part in one last regular-season event this weekend when it makes its debut in The Maxwell at the Dornick Hills Golf & Country Club (par 70/6,442 yards) in Ardmore, Okla. In just its 15th year, The Maxwell already has become well-known on the college golf circuit as a strong pre-NCAA event, providing competitors with a chance to keep their game sharp before heading into regional play.

The Irish are coming off one of the finest performances in the 77-year history of the program, rallying from 12 strokes back in the final round to win their third consecutive BIG EAST Championship on the first hole of a sudden death playoff on April 25 in Dade City, Fla. Notre Dame closed with a school-record 272 (-16) and then got a birdie from freshman Josh Sandman in the playoff to help secure the third straight NCAA automatic bid for the Irish, who learned they will compete in the NCAA East Regional May 18-20 in Orlando.

Named the Golfweek National Team of the Week on May 1, Notre Dame continues to enjoy one of its most successful seasons ever in 2005-06, currently posting a school-record 293.23 stroke average with six top-six finishes and six wins over Golfweek Top 25 opponents. The Irish also are poised to have at least three players finish with sub-74 stroke averages for the first time ever.

Quoting Coach Kubinski …
“We’re thrilled to be included in this year’s Maxwell. Both our hosts (Oklahoma State and Oklahoma) have excellent programs with storied traditions. It’s also a great way to begin our NCAA preparation. Having 25 days or so between our BIG EAST title and the NCAA regional might be a little too much time to feel tournament sharp.

This is a great opportunity to play an outstanding golf course, with top competition and in an area of the country that truly loves college golf. The format is also unique with all five of our players together and counting four of our scores on each hole.

“As a first-time participant, I don’t speak with plausible assurance as I say this, but I have to believe we’ll need to make a few birdies to have a chance to win come Sunday. Our current BIG EAST Championship squad has great birdie potential. We’re looking forward to the challenge and feel it will be a fun tournament to be a part of!”

Dates and Times
Teams will tee off together in groups of five via a shotgun start at 8 a.m. (CT) Saturday, with Notre Dame penciled in to start the first round at the fifth hole. Teams will return to the course Saturday at 2:15 p.m. (CT) for second-round play, using the same shotgun format, with the Irish to open on the 14th tee.

Sunday’s final round tee times will be based upon the 36-hole team standings. The top five squads will start on the first hole, going off in reverse order (fifth place to first place) at 10-minute intervals beginning at 8 a.m. (CT). The remaining six teams in the field (places 6-11) will utilize a shotgun start at 8 a.m. (CT), with those schools placed at tees No. 2-7 in reverse order (i.e. 11th-place team at No. 2, 10th-place team at No. 3, etc.).

Following The Irish
There will be no live scoring available for The Maxwell. However, a live Internet television broadcast of the tournament (courtesy of KXII-TV in Ardmore, Okla.) will be made available at www.kxii.com by clicking on the appropriate link located on the right side of the main page. Tentative broadcast times for the tournament are 12-5 p.m. (CT) Saturday and 11 a.m.-finish (CT) on Sunday.

In addition, complete results following each day’s action will be posted on the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.und.com) and the Irish Sports Hotline (574-631-3000).

The Tournament Format
A total of 11 five-man teams (55 participants plus any individual competitors teams may wish to enter) will be taking part in The Maxwell. The tournament uses a unique scoring format in which the four individual best scores per hole are counted to the team score, rather than the conventional method of counting the four lowest 18-hole totals to make up the team total. What’s more, teams will be playing together in groups of five, rather than in the common setup of three-man pairings with competitors from different schools.

The Teams
Besides Notre Dame and tournament co-hosts Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the remainder of the 11-team field for The Maxwell is as follows: Baylor, Colorado, Louisiana-Monroe, Michigan State, Oklahoma City (NAIA member), Sam Houston State, SMU and Tulsa.

Of the 10 NCAA Division I teams competing this weekend, seven are headed to NCAA regional play next week – Notre Dame (No. 16 seed – East), Baylor (No. 5 – West), Colorado (No. 19 – Central), Oklahoma (No. 13 – Central), Oklahoma State (No. 1 – Central), SMU (No. 16 – Central) and Tulsa (No. 8 – Central). Three of those schools earned their NCAA berths automatically by winning their conference tournaments – Notre Dame (BIG EAST), Oklahoma (Big 12) and SMU (Conference USA) – while the remaining four clubs garnered at-large consideration.

According to the latest ratings in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of Monday afternoon), five of the team’s in this year’s field at The Maxwell are ranked among that survey’s top 50. Second-ranked Oklahoma State leads the way, followed by No. 15 Baylor and 23rd-ranked Tulsa. Other top-50 notables in the field include No. 35 SMU and No. 36 Oklahoma, with Notre Dame (54th), Michigan State (55th) and Colorado (58th) on the doorstep.

In addition, the newest Golfstat rankings were unveiled Tuesday and there are five of this weekend’s participants appearing in that service’s Top 50. No. 2 Oklahoma State is the highest-ranked team, followed by Baylor (14th) and Tulsa (24th). No. 35 Oklahoma and 40th-ranked SMU also are in the mix, with Notre Dame (51st) and Michigan State (53rd) not far behind. It should also be noted that Oklahoma City is rated fourth in Golfstat’s NAIA current rankings.

Notre Dame has faced four of the other 10 teams in the field at The Maxwell this season, sporting a combined 5-2 (.714) record against those squads. The Irish are 2-0 this season against both Michigan State and SMU, as well as 1-0 against Colorado. Conversely, they are 0-2 against Baylor in 2005-06.

The Course
One of the older courses in the country, Dornick Hills Golf & Country Club had its groundbreaking in 1913 and was originally designed by Perry Maxwell, the namesake of this weekend’s tournament, on the site of a dairy farm owned by Maxwell. The par-70 layout owns the distinction of being Oklahoma’s first course with Bermuda grass greens, as well as the first to be affiliated with the United States Golf Association (USGA). While not a particularly long course at 6,442 yards, it provides a challenging test for players with its narrow tree-lined fairways, small greens and numerous natural rock formations.

Dornick Hills has been the site of numerous tournaments through the years, including the Ardmore Open from 1952-54. It also has been regularly named one of the top five courses in the state of Oklahoma by Golf Digest.

Notre Dame At The Maxwell
The Irish will be making their first appearance at The Maxwell this weekend. Tournament co-host Oklahoma State is the four-time defending champion at the event, which is in its 15th year of existence.

Last Time Out: BIG EAST Championship Coming into the final round of the BIG EAST Conference Championship in third place and 12 shots behind Louisville, Notre Dame rallied all the way back with a school-record score of 272 (-16), forcing a sudden-death team playoff, which the Irish won on the first extra hole at the Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in Dade City, Fla. It was Notre Dame’s third consecutive BIG EAST title, along with a third consecutive automatic bid to the NCAA regionals for the Irish.

Freshman Josh Sandman was the hero for Notre Dame, rolling in a 10-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to help clinch the Irish victory. Sandman had tied the 36-hole school record at the BIG EAST Championship (141), but he shot a final-round 76 that was not counted prior to his clutch putt. Sandman finished tied for 20th place with a season-best one-over par 217 (70-71-76).

Senior tri-captain Mark Baldwin earned all-conference honors for the second consecutive year (and became the first three-time all-BIG EAST selection in school history) with his fifth-place tie and four-under par 212 (69-77-66). His final-round 66 and 54-hole total of 212 both go down as school records for BIG EAST tourney play.

Senior tri-captain Scott Gustafson and junior tri-captain Cole Isban shared eighth place with matching scores of three-under par 214. Gustafson rebounded from a slow start with scores of 75-71-67, and his final-round 67 tied his career low. Meanwhile, Isban was steady throughout the tournament, carding rounds of 70, 72 and 71.

Senior Tommy Balderston proved to be Notre Dame’s valuable trump card at the BIG EAST Championship. Making his first appearance with the Irish travel squad in more than a year, the Boca Raton, Fla., veteran fired a one-under par 215 (72-75-68) to tie for 13th place in the 60-man field.

Noting The Irish At The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame joins St. John’s as the only schools in the 26-year history of the BIG EAST Championship to win three consecutive titles on two separate occasions. The Irish recorded their first hat trick from 1995-97, while St. John’s posted a pair of “four-peats” from 1981-84 and 1986-89.

The 12-shot comeback was the second-largest in both Notre Dame and BIG EAST Championship history. In 1995, the Irish erased a 13-stroke deficit to oust Connecticut in what was then both a fall tournament and a 36-hole event.

Notre Dame’s 12-stroke rally also was the largest by any conference champion in any league tournament this season. North Carolina was second with an 11-shot comeback that resulted in a shared Atlantic Coast Conference title with Georgia Tech.

The sudden-death playoff was the first in the 26-year history of the BIG EAST Championship. In fact, the tournament had featured only one other tie – in 1989, St. John’s won its most crown based upon the second-round score of its fifth golfer (a tiebreaking procedure no longer employed by the conference).

Notre Dame set school and BIG EAST Championship scoring records for 18 (272, -16) and 54 holes (842, -22). The prior Irish single-round standard was 275, set at the 1999 Air Force Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colo. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s best three-round score had been 854 at the 2004 Nelson Invitational, played on the shortened par-69 Stanford Golf Course.

The Irish registered the third-lowest final-round score (272) for any team in any conference tournament this year, topped only by matching scores of 269 by top-ranked Georgia and No. 3 Florida at the Southeastern Conference Championship (played on a par-70 course). In fact, only two other teams had lower scores in any round of their conference tourneys this year – in the second round of the ACC Championship (par-72 course), Georgia Tech fired a 267, while Clemson had a 268.

Notre Dame Named Golfweek National Team Of The Week
The Irish achieved another first in the 77-year history of their program on May 1 when they were chosen as the Golfweek National Team of the Week. The honor came following Notre Dame’s memorable 12-shot comeback in the final round of the BIG EAST Championship and subsequent playoff victory over Louisville.

The Ranking File
One of the ways Notre Dame has been able to inject itself into the conversation as one of the nation’s upper-echelon programs has been its play against some of the other elite teams in the country. This season, the Irish have defeated six Top 25 opponents (according to Golfweek), including three in the past three tournaments alone. What’s more, the Irish have ousted 11 ranked teams since head coach Jim Kubinski arrived on the Notre Dame campus in January 2005.

In 2005-06 alone, the Irish have dispatched No. 3 Florida (Shoal Creek Intercollegiate), No. 12 Tennessee (Administaff Augusta State Invitational), No. 16 Texas (The Prestige at PGA WEST), No. 16 Minnesota (Boilermaker Invitational), No. 17 Alabama (Shoal Creek) and No. 23 Northwestern (Boilermaker). All rankings are taken from the Golfweek index at the start of 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 293.23, it would shatter the old school record by more than five shots (298.29 in 1999-2000). In addition, the Irish presently have three players with stroke averages at 74.00 or lower (min. 13.5 rounds) – Cole Isban (72.97), Mark Baldwin (73.23), and Scott Gustafson (73.40), with freshman Josh Sandman (72.89) needing to play 4.5 more rounds to join that group. 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 295.60 in their opening round before trimming that score to 293.30 in round two. However, Notre Dame has saved its best round for last, firing a 290.80 on average this season.

Tough Enough
When it comes to scheduling, the philosophy of Notre Dame head coach Jim Kubinski centers around playing in the nation’s top tournaments on the country’s best courses in order to prepare his team for postseason competition. Heading into The Maxwell, the Irish schedule is ranked 57th in the nation, according to the latest Golfweek rankings (as of May 8). Upon closer inspection, nine of the 11 tournaments Notre Dame has played this year are ranked among the 60 toughest in the nation for the 2005-06 season by Golfweek, including five in the top 35. Leading the way is the CordeValle Collegiate (18th), followed by the Administaff Augusta State Invitational (19th), Shoal Creek Intercollegiate (27th), Gopher Invitational (34th) and Coca-Cola Duke Classic (31st).

Some of the premier courses the Irish have played this year include: Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham (site of the 1984 and 1990 PGA Championships), PGA WEST in La Quinta, Calif. (site of numerous PGA Tour events in the past two decades), the TPC of Myrtle Beach (S.C.), and the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex/Kampen Course in West Lafayette, Ind. (site of three previous NCAA regionals/finals and host of the 2008 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships).

Enter Sandman
For much of the 2005-06 season, freshman Josh Sandman was forced to the sidelines with a nagging back injury. However, the problem cleared up enough to allow the rookie to enter the Notre Dame lineup on April 1-2 at the Administaff Augusta State Invitational, and since then, the Greensboro, N.C., native has been a major contributor to Irish fortunes.

In just three tournaments this year, Sandman is posting a 72.89 stroke average, with four of his nine rounds coming in at par or better, including one in the 60s. He also has finished in the top 25 each time, peaking with a tie for second at the Boilermaker Invitational on April 8-9. Yet, his biggest contribution to date came on after his only discounted round of the season (76 in the final round at the BIG EAST Championship), when he knocked his difficult approach shot from a tough downhill lie near a fairway bunker within 10 feet of the pin and made the ensuing birdie putt to help Notre Dame win its third consecutive BIG EAST title.

Next Up For The Irish: NCAA East Regional (May 18-20)
Notre Dame will make its 33rd NCAA postseason appearance May 18-20 when it travels to Orlando for the NCAA East Regional at the Lake Nona Golf & Country Club. It will mark the third trip to Florida this season for the Irish, who finished fourth in the spring opener at the Lexus Naples Intercollegiate Invitational (Naples, Fla.) and won the BIG EAST Championship April 24-25 in Dade City, Fla.

Notre Dame will be competing in its third consecutive NCAA regional, having narrowly missed advancing to the NCAA Championships each of the past two years out of the NCAA Central Regional. In 2004, the Irish ended up four strokes from the 10-team cut line, and last year, they shaved that margin to two shots. In both cases, Notre Dame was tied for 10th place with two holes to play before coming up just short.