Under the watchful eye of head coach Jim Kubinski, Notre Dame has been rated ninth in the '07-08 <i>Golf Digest</i> balanced rankings for athletic and academic excellence, according to the September issue of the magazine. <i>(photo by Steve Ritter)</i>

Irish Headed To Orlando For NCAA East Regional

May 8, 2006

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Less than two weeks after securing its third consecutive BIG EAST Conference Championship, the Notre Dame men’s golf team has learned its postseason destination. The Irish are the No. 16 seed in the 27-team NCAA East Regional, which will be played May 18-20 in Orlando, Fla., at the Lake Nona Golf & Country Club (par 72/7,215 yards). Notre Dame will be making its third consecutive regional appearance and has earned its 33rd NCAA postseason berth, as it aims to reach the NCAA finals for the first time since 1966. The top 10 teams in each of the three regionals (East, Central, West) will advance to the NCAA Championships, scheduled for May 31-June 3 in Sunriver, Ore., at the Crosswater Golf Club.

“Knowing we were already in because of our automatic bid as the BIG EAST champion made listening to the call a lot easier,” second-year Irish head coach Jim Kubinski said. “We were hoping for the short trip to the Central Regional (at Chardon, Ohio, near Cleveland), but we seemed to have good success the last time we went to Florida (for the BIG EAST Championship), so hopefully, our good play will continue down there at regionals. It’s going to be a tough competition, but our guys are up for the challenge and ready to take that next step and make it back to the finals.”

The 16th seed is the highest for Notre Dame since NCAA regional play was introduced in 1989, although this will mark the first time the Irish have been sent somewhere other than the Central Regional. Two years ago, Notre Dame returned to NCAA postseason competition as the No. 24 seed at the Central Regional in West Lafayette, Ind., coming home four shots off the cut line in 12th place. Last year, the 20th-seeded Irish hosted the Central Regional at the Warren Golf Course on the Notre Dame campus and once again came agonizingly close to making the NCAA finals, finishing two shots out of a playoff for advancement in a tie for 13th place. This year’s trip to Florida will mark the southernmost location the Irish have ever gone for NCAA competition, having never traveled further south than Durham, N.C., when they competed in the 1962 NCAA Championships.

The defending NCAA champion (and this year’s Southeastern Conference titleist), Georgia is the No. 1 seed in the NCAA East Regional, with Pac-10 Conference champion UCLA, UNLV, Colonial Athletic Association victor Georgia State and Atlantic Coast Conference co-champion North Carolina rounding out the top five. BIG EAST runner-up Louisville received an at-large bid to the NCAA West Regional, where the Cardinals are the No. 15 seed.

Notre Dame enters the postseason playing some of its best golf of the season. The Irish are coming off a record-setting performance at the BIG EAST Championship April 24-25 at the Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in Dade City, Fla., rallying from 12 strokes back in the final round with a school-record score of 272 (-16) to force a sudden-death playoff with Louisville, which Notre Dame won on a birdie putt by freshman Josh Sandman (Greensboro, N.C./Southeast Guilford). The 12-shot comeback is the second-largest rally on record in the program’s history since the Irish began regularly playing in tournaments (instead of match play) in 1968-69. The only larger deficit recovery for Notre Dame came at the 1995 BIG EAST Championship, when the Irish climbed out of a 13-shot hole to defeat Connecticut in what was then both a fall tournament and a 36-hole event. The Irish finished the BIG EAST tournament by setting a 54-hole school scoring record (842, -22), while their comeback was the best by any champion in any conference this season. Thus, it was no surprise that Notre Dame was named the Golfweek National Team of the Week on May 1, the first time the Irish have ever been selected for the honor.

“With the way we finished at Purdue (third place) and then at the BIG EAST, I feel we’ll be a team to be reckoned with,” Kubinski said. “We’re playing better than we did a year ago. We would have preferred to play with the top 15 seeds because if any portion of play is cancelled due to weather, the seeding becomes very significant. Unfortunately, our wrong ball DQ at UCLA was a tough break and cost us 15 losses on our record, because had we not had that rules error, we’re probably a Top 25 team and a much better seed.”

In addition, the conference title continues an impressive start to Kubinski’s tenure with the Irish. Since arriving on the Notre Dame campus in January 2005, the Irish mentor has guided his charges to nine top-five finishes in 17 events, including three championships (two in playoffs), and 11 wins over opponents ranked in the Golfweek Top 25. Notre Dame also has claimed the last two BIG EAST titles under his watch and will be making its second consecutive NCAA regional appearance later this month.

This season, the Irish have compiled a 293.23 stroke average, which would shatter the school’s single-season record of 298.29 (1999-2000) by more than five strokes. What’s more, Notre Dame has posted four of the top 10 single-round scores in school history and has six wins over ranked opponents in 2005-06, not to mention victories over six other conference champions (Georgia Southern – Southern; North Carolina – ACC (tie); Northern Colorado – Independents; Northwestern – Big Ten; SMU – Conference USA; Wichita State – Missouri Valley).

Of the other 26 teams in this year’s NCAA East Regional field, Notre Dame has faced 14 of them and defeating seven (No. 5 seed North Carolina, No. 12 Tennessee, No. 14 Florida State, No. 15 Indiana, No. 17 Georgia Southern, No. 21 Wichita State and No. 22 Rhode Island). The Irish also have marquee wins this season over Florida (top seed in the NCAA West Regional), Alabama (No. 6 in the West), Texas (No. 6 in the Central), Northwestern (No. 9 in the Central), North Carolina State (No. 9 in the West) and Minnesota (No. 10 in the Central).

Prior to NCAA regional competition, Notre Dame will take part in one final regular-season event Saturday and Sunday when it travels to Ardmore, Okla., for The Maxwell, to be played at the Dornick Hills Country Club. The Irish will make their first-ever appearance in the prestigious event, which is co-hosted by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and is considered a prime tune-up for the postseason.

— ND —

May 18-20, 2006
Orlando, Fla. (Lake Nona Golf & Country Club)

1. Georgia
4. Georgia State
5. North Carolina
6. USC
7. Texas Tech
8. Wake Forest
9. Charlotte
10. Coastal Carolina
11. Auburn
12. Tennessee
13. South Carolina
14. Florida State
15. Indiana
17. Georgia Southern
18. Maryland
19. Jacksonville
20. Western Illinois
21. Wichita State
22. Rhode Island
23. George Washington
24. Richmond
25. Liberty
26. Army
27. Binghamton

The remaining NCAA regional participants (Central and West sites), as well as additional information concerning the 2006 NCAA Men’s Golf Championship can be found at NCAAsports.com.