Sophomore Dustin Zhang tied for 18th place at last year's BIG EAST Championship, and is one of two Irish golfers with experience playing in the conference tournament.

Irish Look To Roll Lucky Seven At BIG EAST Championship

April 17, 2009

BIG EAST Conference Championship
Sunday-Tuesday, April 19-21, 2009
Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club — South Course
Dade City, Fla.
Par 72/7,031 yards

The Starting Lineup

Player                  Ht/Wt     Year       Hometown             Stroke Avg.1 - Doug Fortner        6-0/170   Junior     Tustin, Calif.       74.672 - Jeff Chen           5-11/165  Sophomore  Walnut, Calif.       74.383 - Max Scodro          5-10/165  Freshman   Chicago, Ill.        75.154 - Dustin Zhang        5-9/150   Sophomore  Calgary, Alberta     76.225 - Connor Alan-Lee     6-0/165   Sophomore  Solana Beach, Calif. 75.73

Notre Dame Looks To Roll Lucky Seven At BIG EAST Championship
Returning to the site of arguably the greatest tournament performance in the program’s 80-year history, Notre Dame goes in search of its seventh BIG EAST Conference title when it tees off in the BIG EAST Championship Sunday at 8:50 a.m. (ET) on the South Course (par 72/7,031 yards) at the Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in Dade City, Fla. The last time the Irish competed on this layout, they carded a school-record 22-under par 842 at the 2006 conference tournament, including a school-record 272 (-16) in the final round to erase a 12-stroke deficit and set the stage for victory on the first hole of a sudden death playoff.

While the hero of that tournament, senior co-captain Josh Sandman (who sank the winning birdie putt in the playoff), is out for the year while recovering from back surgery, he will be on hand in Florida to provide veteran leadership for a young Notre Dame lineup that features three sophomores and a freshman among the starting five. Junior Doug Fortner (74.67 stroke average) was an all-conference performer last year with a tie for fourth place at the BIG EAST Championship, while sophomore Dustin Zhang (76.22) finished in an 18th-place tie at the 2008 tournament.

Three other Irish golfers will make their debuts at this weekend’s BIG EAST Championship. Sophomore Jeff Chen (74.38) is enjoying a breakout second season and could be in the mix for all-conference honors this year, while classmate Connor Alan-Lee (75.73) is coming off a career-best tie for third place earlier this week at the Caputo Invitational in suburban Chicago. Speaking of the Windy City, native son and freshman Max Scodro (75.15) will look to become the sixth Notre Dame rookie in eight years to take home an all-BIG EAST plaque, while rekindling some of the early-season magic that saw him share medalist honors at the UNCG Bridgestone Collegiate Championship (only the third Irish freshman to win an individual title in school history).

Quoting Coach Kubinski…
“We’re approaching it as an exciting opportunity. We’re 4-0 versus the BIG EAST this spring. We know we can do something (win) we’ve felt capable of all year. Lake Jovita was our place the last time we competed there in winning the ’06 Big East crown at 22-under par. We have great, great memories of doing something rarely done. We came from 12 shots down on the last day to beat Louisville after firing 16-under that day. We’ll have positive vibes. Lake Jovita is a good test. There are some very good holes, but a player can make some birdies if he hits the shots. I like what we’re bringing to the event from one to five in our lineup.

“I think the big thing is the guys know this is it. They know what’s at stake and how an entire season of work comes down to this opportunity. We don’t see it as pressure, but rather as an opportunity. We’ve gained a lot of experience this season. If you look at our roster, just about every player other than Doug (Fortner) either played their first event as a college player or doubled (and in some cases, tripled) what they had played previously. From one to five, I feel we’re as good or better than every team in our conference. It’s just a matter of playing solidly over 54 holes. They understand that. We don’t need the spectacular — we only need a focused and consistent effort.”

Dates and Times
Teams will play single rounds (18 holes) each of the three days during the tournament. Teams were seeded via a blind draw at the BIG EAST offices, and Notre Dame has been assigned the eighth seed, meaning it will play with No. 7 seed Seton Hall and ninth-seeded South Florida for Sunday’s first round, beginning at 8:50 a.m. (ET) and teeing off in reverse lineup order at 10-minute intervals. Start times for the final two rounds will be determined by the tournament standings at the conclusion of the previous round, with all teams teeing off from the first hole on Monday (beginning at 8 a.m. ET) and using a split-tee format from the first and 10th tees on Tuesday (also beginning at 8 a.m. ET). All times and formats are tentative and subject to change.

Following The Irish
Live scoring for this week’s BIG EAST Championship will be offered through the Golfstat web site ( Complete results following both days of action will be posted on the official Notre Dame athletics web site ( The latest information from the tournament, including results, scheduling updates and weather delays, also will be provided on the Notre Dame Sports Hotline (574-631-3000). Furthermore, results also will be available via the Irish ALERT text-message system, which provides fans with regular updates on Notre Dame’s progress at the BIG EAST Championship through text messages sent to their cell phone. For more information, visit

The Tournament Format
A total of 12 five-man teams (60 participants) will be taking part in the BIG EAST Championship. 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. In the event of a tie at the end of the 54-hole competition, a sudden-death playoff will commence immediately upon the conclusion of Tuesday’s final round, using a format designated by the tournament committee. All-conference awards will be presented to the top 10 golfers (plus ties) on the final individual ladder, while the conference Coach of the Year awards will be voted upon by the BIG EAST coaches following the tournament.

The Teams
The 12 participating teams for the BIG EAST Championship are: Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, St. John’s, Seton Hall, South Florida, Rutgers and Villanova.

According to the April 1 edition of the Golf World/Nike Golf Top 25 coaches’ poll, Louisville is the lone team in this week’s conference tournament that is receiving votes, collecting six points (tying for 38th place if the poll were extended).

Meanwhile, Thursday’s updated ratings in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index show Louisville is the top-rated team in the BIG EAST field, checking in at No. 44. Marquette (81st) and Notre Dame (97th) are the other conference teams in the top 100 of the latest Golfweek survey.

In addition, Wednesday’s updated Golfstat rankings have Louisville rated 44th in the nation, while Marquette (82nd) and Notre Dame (96th) also are among the top 100 teams competing at this year’s BIG EAST Championship.

So far this season, Notre Dame is 4-2 against other BIG EAST teams, including a 4-0 record against the conference this spring. The Irish are 2-0 vs. St. John’s (17-shot win at the Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate; 15-stroke victory at the FAU Spring Break Championship), 1-0 vs. Marquette (two-shot win at the FAU Spring Break Championship), 1-1 against Louisville (five-shot victory at the Border Olympics; 12-shot loss at the UNCG Bridgestone Collegiate Championship) and 0-1 vs. DePaul (11-stroke defeat at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic).

The Course
For the second time in four years, the BIG EAST Championship will be contested on the South Course at Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in Dade City, Fla. Opening in 2000 and co-designed by PGA Tour veteran (and 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup captain) Tom Lehman and noted golf course achitect Kurt Sandness, Lake Jovita is like no other Florida layout. Its features include rolling hills, undulating valleys, and ancient hardwood forests dotted with freshwater lakes. The landscape and elevation changes here are far more typical of North Carolina than they are of Florida. In fact, the South Course features the longest natural drop of any golf course in the state — 94 feet from tee to green on the par-5, 11th hole.

In 2000, Golf Digest ranked the South Course among the nation’s 10 best new upscale courses, and in 2006, ranked the design No. 22 on its list of the state’s best courses, public or private. The generous fairways, velvet-like greens, and immaculate course conditions will provide a stern test for each player in this year’s BIG EAST Championship field.

Notre Dame At The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame has participated in each of the past 13 BIG EAST Championships and finished among the top three 11 times since joining the conference prior to the 1995-96 academic year. To date, the Irish have won six titles (1995, 1996, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2006), which puts them second in league history behind the nine crowns won by St. John’s from 1979-89. George Thomas served as the head coach for Notre Dame’s first three BIG EAST victories, while John Jasinski guided the Irish to the 2004 title and current head coach Jim Kubinski has been the helm when Notre Dame won the `05 and `06 events.

In addition to their six championships, the Irish have finished as tournament runner-up four times (1998 – tie with St. John’s, 2002, 2003, 2007) and took third-place honors in 2000.

Notre Dame golfers also have won medalist honors four times, tying Virginia Tech for the third-highest total in conference history behind St. John’s (seven) and Providence (six). The most recent Irish individual champion was crowned in 2005 when Mark Baldwin won the weather-shortened BIG EAST Championship with a five-over par 75. Other Notre Dame golfers who were medalists at the conference tournament include: Bill Moore (1995), Todd Vernon (1997) and Steve Ratay (2001 – three-way tie with Brian Krusoe of Virginia Tech and Andrew Svoboda of St. John’s).

Potent Notables On The Irish At The BIG EAST Championship

  • Notre Dame joins St. John’s as the only schools in the 29-year history of the BIG EAST Championship to win three consecutive titles on more than one occasion. The Irish recorded their first hat trick from 1995-97 and matched that feat from 2004-06. St. John’s actually posted a pair of “four-peats” from 1981-84 and 1986-89, becoming the only school ever to win four consecutive BIG EAST titles.
  • Notre Dame’s 32-stroke win in 1997 is the second-largest margin of victory in BIG EAST Championship history. St. John’s finished 34 shots ahead of the field to win the 1988 conference title.
  • Conversely, the Irish also won the first sudden death playoff in BIG EAST Championship history in 2006 (at the site of this week’s event, Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club), defeating Louisville on the first extra hole with an aggregate score of one-under par (birdie, par, par, par), compared to one-over par for the Cardinals (par, par, par, bogey). The 1989 conference title was decided by a scorecard playoff (second-round score of fifth golfer), a tiebreak no longer employed by the BIG EAST.
  • Junior Doug Fortner earned all-conference honors last year after tying for fourth place (219/+3). Sophomore Dustin Zhang is the other Irish golfer in this week’s lineup with experience at the BIG EAST Championship, having tied for 18th (224/+8) to close out his rookie season in 2007-08. Senior Josh Sandman, who is out for the season while recovering from back surgery, is a two-time all-BIG EAST honoree, having placed 10th in 2007 (215/-1) and seventh in 2008 (220/+4). Sandman is expected to petition for an NCAA hardship waiver, and if granted, he would return for a fifth year of eligibility in 2009-10.
  • Notre Dame has fielded multiple all-conference honorees in six of the past seven BIG EAST Championships, with Fortner and Sandman continuing the trend in 2008. Ironically, the only time since 2002 that the Irish haven’t had multiple all-BIG EAST selections was the 2006 event at Lake Jovita, when Mark Baldwin was the lone recipient as part of Notre Dame’s most recent league title.
  • For the eighth consecutive year, Notre Dame will start a freshman at the BIG EAST Championship when rookie Max Scodro steps to the No. 10 tee on Sunday morning. In three of the previous seven years, an Irish freshman has gone on to earn all-conference recognition (Ryan Marshall in 2002; Tommy Balderston, Mark Baldwin and Scott Gustafson in 2003; and Cole Isban in 2004).
  • Notre Dame has a share of two BIG EAST Championship records. The Irish shot a tournament-record 842 (-22) in 2006, tying Louisville through the regulation 54 holes before winning in sudden death. That same year, Mark Baldwin fired a final-round 66 (-6), and is one of five golfers tied for the lowest 18-hole score in conference tournament history.
  • The third round of the BIG EAST Championship has been particularly good to the Irish in two of the past three years. In fact, Notre Dame went a combined 26-under par on the final day at the BIG EAST tourney in 2006 (sschool-record 272/-16) and 2007 (278/-10), before carding a 298 (+10) last year.
  • Although it’s just nine years old, the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame already has played host to five BIG EAST Championships, second only to the TPC at Avenel (Potomac, Md.), which was the site of 11 conference tournaments, including 10 in a row from 1987-96. However, Notre Dame will not host the conference tournament until at least 2012, with the event staying in the state of Florida for two more years, heading over to the Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club (Palm Harbor, Fla.) for the 2010 and 2011 tournaments.

Tourney Rewind: 2008 BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame wrapped up its 2007-08 season with a fourth-place finish at the BIG EAST Championship at the Traditions Golf Club (par 72/7,103 yards) in Hebron, Ky. The Irish carded a three-round total of 25-over par 889 (296-295-298), marking the fifth-lowest BIG EAST score in school history. Notre Dame also fielded two all-conference selections, the sixth time in the past seven years the Irish have had multiple all-BIG EAST honorees.

Marquette won its first BIG EAST title in thrilling fashion, shooting a 10-over par 874 (291-288-295) to edge hard-charging runner-up Louisville (876, +12) by two strokes.

Doug Fortner earned his first career all-conference citation after finishing tied for fourth place at three-over par 219 (73-75-71). Fortner birdied the ninth hole in the final round and made that stand up the rest of the way. Marquette’s Ted Gray led wire-to-wire in capturing medalist honors at 211 (-5), three strokes better than Keegan Bradley of St. John’s. The top 10 finishers (plus ties) at the BIG EAST Championship receive all-conference honors.

Josh Sandman stumbled a bit in his final round, but still earned his second consecutive all-BIG EAST certificate (and fifth consecutive top-10 finish) after tying for seventh place at four-over par 220 (71-72-77). Sandman, who is the first Irish golfer since at least 1980 to record five top-10 finishes in a row, birdied his second hole in the final round, but followed with a triple bogey at No. 3, and after a birdie on the fourth, he took a double bogey at No. 6 and a bogey at No. 8 that left him battling back the remainder of the day.

Dustin Zhang showed good improvement throughout his first BIG EAST Championship, peaking with a final-round 72 that left him tied for 18th place at eight-over par 224 (77-75-72). Two of Notre Dame’s tri-captains — Eddie Peckels and Greg Rodgers — saw their college careers come to an end with the conclusion of the BIG EAST tournament. Rodgers finished in a tie for 44th place at 18-over par 234 (75-81-78), while Peckels wound up in 49th place at 19-over par 235 (80-73-82) in his first trip to the BIG EAST Championship.

Last Time Out: Robert Kepler Intercollegiate
Notre Dame shot a final-round 305 (+21) and moved up one spot to finish 10th at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate, which concluded Sunday on the Scarlet Course (par 71/7,455 yards) at the Ohio State Golf Club in Columbus, Ohio. The Irish completed the tournament at 77-over par 929 (309-315-305) on what was the longest course Notre Dame had played on all year.

Northwestern secured the team title with a final score of 892 (+40), two shots ahead of East Tennessee State in the 13-team field. Ohio State’s Brad Wright, who competed this weekend as an individual participant, walked away with medalist honors at five-over par 218, two strokes clear of Northwestern’s Josh Dupont.

Junior Doug Fortner was Notre Dame’s top finisher at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate, tying for 18th place at 14-over par 227 (72-80-75). It was Fortner’s third top-20 finish of the year and his highest since a season-best tie for fourth at last month’s Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate in Puerto Rico.

Sophomore Jeff Chen turned in the best individual score for the Irish during Sunday’s final round with a three-over par 74, moving into sole possession of 25th place at 16-over par 229 (78-77-74).

Meanwhile, the other three Notre Dame golfers were separated by a single stroke in the final standings. Junior co-captain Olavo Batista tied for 55th place at 25-over par 238 (82-78-78). Junior Carl Santos-Ocampo and freshman Tom Usher tied for 59th place at 26-over par 239 with nearly identical round scores — Santos-Ocampo posted marks of 81-80-78, while Usher shot the exact reverse of his teammate’s scores with 78-80-81.

Captains Courageous
Senior Josh Sandman (out for the year following off-season back surgery) and junior Olavo Batista are serving as Notre Dame’s team captains for the 2008-09 season. It’s the first time either man has been chosen to fill that role.

The .500 Rule
According to a rule passed by the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Committee prior to the 2007-08 season, teams must finish with a winning head-to-head record (i.e. better than .500) in order to be considered for a berth in postseason play. Notre Dame currently owns a 49-83-1 (.372) record against Division I opponents this season.

Things You Should Know About The Irish

  • Notre Dame has won six BIG EAST Conference titles in its 14-year league affiliation, stringing together three consecutive crowns from 1995-97 and again from 2004-06. The Irish also have made 33 NCAA postseason appearances in their history (most recently in 2006 with a trip to the NCAA East Regional), winning the 1944 national title and finishing second in 1937.
  • Notre Dame has taken its play to new levels in recent years, posting the three single-season stroke averages in school history since head coach Jim Kubinski took over as head coach in January 2005. The Irish also have carded 11 of the top 15 tournament scores (54 holes) in program history during the Kubinski era, including a school-record 842 (-22) at the 2006 BIG EAST Championship.
  • Notre Dame’s resurgence of late has been augmented by its play against nationally-ranked opponents. In fact, since Kubinski arrived under the Golden Dome, the Irish have defeated 15 Top 25 teams (according to Golfweek) and posted 18 top-five tournament finishes, including three event titles (most recently the `06 BIG EAST Championship).
  • Kubinski himself was nominated for a place on the 2007 GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teachers List, after being placed into consideration by the Indiana Section of the PGA. Approximately 400-500 people are chosen annually from the 30,000 PGA professionals nationwide for a few select places on the GOLF Magazine list, whose membership includes such notables as Hank Haney, Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter and Rick Smith.

Next Up: NCAA Regionals (May 14-16)
Should the Irish win this week’s BIG EAST Championship, they would earn the conference’s automatic bid to the 2009 NCAA Championships, which get underway with regional play at six sites May 14-16. This will be the first year that the regional round will feature six locations (expanded from three), with this year’s sites being: Austin, Texas; Bowling Green, Ky.; Daly City, Calif.; Galloway, N.J.; Sorrento, Fla.; and Stillwater, Okla.

The top five finishers at each regional (plus the top individual finisher not on a top-five team) will advance to the NCAA Championship final, slated for May 27-30 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.

— ND —