Junior Josh Sandman is in position to collect his third consecutive top-10 finish, currently sharing ninth place at 142 (-2) through two rounds at the National Invitational Tournament in Tucson, Ariz.

Irish Looking To Make History At BIG EAST Championship

April 21, 2007

Complete Release in PDF Format

BIG EAST Championship
Sunday-Tuesday, April 22-24, 2007
8 a.m. (ET) each day
Cardinal Club
Louisville, Ky.
Par 72/7,036 yards

Irish Looking To Make History At BIG EAST Championship
Three-time defending BIG EAST champion Notre Dame will aim to do something only one other school has done in the 27-year history of the conference tournament – win a fourth consecutive crown. St. John’s pulled off that feat on two occasions (1981-84 and 1986-89), while the Irish have collected a pair of “triple crowns” from 1996-98 and their current string from 2004-06. Notre Dame will get its chance when it hits the links at the Cardinal Club in Louisville, Ky., Sunday-Tuesday for the ’07 BIG EAST tourney.

Notre Dame is the second seed for this year’s BIG EAST Championship behind tournament host and top-20 team Louisville. The Irish have posted a pair of runner-up finishes this season and have a 296.71 stroke average that is second-lowest in school history. The winner of this week’s conference tournament will take the BIG EAST’s automatic berth to the NCAA regionals, which will take play May 17-19 at three sites around the country.

Quoting Coach Kubinski
“We’re excited to be heading to Louisville this weekend with a chance to win our fourth straight conference title. Of course, the Cardinals are not only hosting the event, but have had an outstanding season to date. We’ll need to play our best golf from the outset in order to put ourselves in position for Tuesday afternoon’s final stretch of holes.

“We really need our top guys, Cole (Isban) and Josh (Sandman), to step up and bring their best game. They’re the type of guys who are very, very competitive. They realize what’s at stake. If anything, I think they’ll feed off the championship environment. “We’ve had tremendous contributions from Adam Gifford this season. He has really been a stabilizing force not only in the lineup, but in the locker room. He provides great leadership on and off the course. To go from being a little-used walk-on a couple of years ago to what he is today is only a testament to his character and work ethic.

“Of course, our other underclassmen have shown flashes of brilliance, if also a bit of inconsistency. I think Mother Nature slowed them for a while, but they’re ready to hit their stride at the perfect time. Greg Rodgers has been especially impressive. He’s getting back to the player that built such a solid record in junior golf.

“All the younger guys – Doug (Fortner), Eddie (Peckels), Mike (King), Kyle (Willis), Carl (Santos-Ocampo) and Olavo (Batista) have worked so hard this season. They’ve pushed each other to reach this point. There’s something about our team that feels good. We haven’t played our best golf yet either. There’s something left in the tank. I’m looking for a great effort this weekend. The Irish will be ready when the green light shows!”

Dates and Times
Teams will play single rounds (18 holes) each day, starting on the No. 1 tee with the Notre Dame quintet slated to begin the first round Sunday at 8:50 a.m. (ET) while paired with golfers from Louisville and Marquette. Pairings and tee times for the second and third rounds will be re-assigned based upon the 18- and 36-hole standings. All times and formats are tentative and subject to change.

Following The Irish
Live in-progress scoring (every nine holes) from the BIG EAST Championship will be available through the Golfstat web site (www.golfstat.com). In addition, complete results following each day’s action will be posted on the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.und.com). The latest information from the tournament, including results, scheduling updates and weather delays, also will be available on the Notre Dame Sports Hotline (574-631-3000).

New this year is the Irish ALERT 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 official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.und.com).

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. The winning team will not only take home the BIG EAST Championship trophy, but also will earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA regionals, which take place May 17-19 at three sites around the country.

The Teams
Tournament host Louisville is the top seed for this weekend’s BIG EAST Championship, while defending conference champion Notre Dame is the No. 2 seed. The remainder of the tournament field (in order of seeding) is as follows: Marquette, South Florida, St. John’s, Georgetown, DePaul, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Villanova, Connecticut and Rutgers. According to the latest edition of the Golf World/Nike Top 25 coaches poll (released April 4), one ranked team – No. 19 Louisville – will be competing in this weekend’s tournament. Notre Dame is the only other participating squad to be receiving votes in the latest coaches’ balloting – the Irish garnered nine votes, good for a tie for 32nd place if the poll were extended.

Meanwhile, Monday’s updated ratings in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index has the tournament field ranked as follows: Louisville (18th), Notre Dame (63rd), Marquette (99th), USF (108th), St. John’s (123rd), DePaul (159th), Georgetown (165th), Seton Hall (190th), Connecticut (206th), Cincinnati (217th), Villanova (223rd) and Rutgers (248th).

In addition, the most recent Golfstat rankings (unveiled Wednesday) have the BIG EAST Championship field broken down this way: Louisville (15th), Notre Dame (66th), Marquette (94th), South Florida (99th), St. John’s (110th), DePaul (158th), Georgetown (168th), Seton Hall (181st), Connecticut (203rd), Cincinnati (207th), Villanova (215th) and Rutgers (245th).

It’s not unusual that Notre Dame hasn’t seen many of the other BIG EAST Championship teams this season. In fact, the Irish have played alongside only one other league squad this year – Louisville won last week’s Kepler Intercollegiate at 591, while Notre Dame was 37 shots back at 628 during the two-round weather-plagued event in Columbus, Ohio.

The Course
Located not far from the Louisville campus in Simpsonville, Ky., the Cardinal Club (par 72/7,036 yards) is one the country’s finer new courses. It was designed by Spencer Holt and is situated on 212 acres of manicured bent grass, and naturally rolling terrain, including heathery grasses and bluegrass rough. A 12,000-square foot clubhouse serves as the foundation for the 18-hole layout.

Notre Dame At The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame has participated in each of the past 11 BIG EAST Championships and finished among the top three 10 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 three times (1998 – tie with St. John’s, 2002, 2003) 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 26-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 have matched that feat the past three seasons (2004-06), while St. John’s actually posted a pair of “four-peats” from 1981-84 and 1986-89. The Red Storm are the only team 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 last season, 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.
  • Unlike last year’s veteran squad that featured four of five golfers having previously earned all-conference honors, only two members of this year’s Irish lineup have even played in the BIG EAST Championship, let alone done enough to garner all-league recognition. Senior co-captain Cole Isban took all-BIG EAST plaudits in 2004 and 2005, while sophomore Josh Sandman made his first conference tournament appearance last year and sank the title-winning birdie putt in the sudden-death playoff.
  • For the sixth consecutive year, Notre Dame will start a freshman at the BIG EAST Championship when rookie Doug Fortner steps to the No. 1 tee on Sunday morning. In three of the previous five 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). Current junior Mike King was the new kid on the block for Notre Dame in 2005 and just missed an all-BIG EAST citation of his own with a tie for ninth place at 10-over par 80 (top seven players in the field are awarded all-conference status).
  • The second-round leader at the BIG EAST Championship has not won the conference title since 2002, when Virginia Tech protected its lead on the final day and defeated Notre Dame by 17 shots. In 2003, the Irish had a four-stroke edge on the Hokies going into the third round, but ended up falling by two shots. Then, in 2004, Notre Dame returned the favor, erasing Tech’s five-stroke advantage with a final-round charge to win by six. The 2005 tournament was shortened to one round by weather, but the comeback trend continued in 2006 when Louisville led Marquette by seven shots and Notre Dame by 12 shots going into the final round before the Irish shot a school-record 272 (-16) to draw even and eventually win in a playoff.
  • Although it’s just seven 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 the 2009-10 season, with next year’s event scheduled for suburban Cincinnati (Traditions Golf Club in Hebron, Ky.) and the ’08-09 tournament headed back to Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in Dade City, Fla. (and hosted by USF).

Tourney Rewind: 2006 BIG EAST Championship
There are some moments that can only be classified as happening “nowhere but Notre Dame.” On a bright and sunny Tuesday afternoon in central Florida, another one of those signature events in Irish athletics history took place, as the Notre Dame men’s golf team charged from 12 strokes back in the final round of the 2006 BIG EAST Conference Championship and wound up defeating Louisville on the first hole of a sudden-death team playoff at the Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club/South Course (par 72/7,031 yards) in Dade City, Fla. With the victory, the Irish won their third consecutive BIG EAST title (sixth in their 11 years as a league member) and locked up a third straight berth to NCAA regional play.

Notre Dame’s comeback was record setting in several ways, starting with its final-round score of 16-under par 272, which shattered the old school record for a single round of 275, set at the 1999 Air Force Invitational (played at altitude in Colorado Springs). The Irish also carded the lowest 54-hole score in the program’s 77-year history, a 22-under par 842 (281-289-272) that topped the previous standard by 12 shots (854 at the 2004 Nelson Invitational, played on a shortened par-69 course at Stanford). In addition, it established a new conference tournament three-round record, breaking Virginia Tech’s mark of 865 set in 2002. Ironically, Tech was the last team to win three consecutive league titles (2001-03), although Notre Dame becomes just the second team to win three in a row on two separate occasions (1995-97, 2004-06), joining St. John’s (1981-84, 1986-89) in that elite company.

What made the ’06 rally even more special was the fact that all five Irish golfers made tremendous contributions to the victory. During regulation play, the bottom four players in the Notre Dame lineup all shot under par. Tommy Balderston was the first to finish up, shooting a four-under par 68 that equaled the best round ever posted by an Irish player in BIG EAST Championship play. That mark lasted all of 10 minutes, before Scott Gustafson rolled in with a five-under par 67. Yet, Gustafson’s new record didn’t stand much longer than Balderston’s figure, as Mark Baldwin came along in the next group and drained a tricky eight-foot par putt on No. 18 to reset the school standard and match the conference record with a six-under par 66. Cole Isban then tacked on a one-under 71 to cap off the historic performance.

However, when it came to the playoff hole (par-4 No. 18), Josh Sandman was the hero. The Irish rookie had shot the high round of the day for Notre Dame (76, +4), but playing in the second playoff pairing, he ripped his tee shot to the edge of a fairway bunker around 135 yards from the pin. Despite having a dangerous downhill lie on the front lip of the trap, Sandman confidently pulled out a wedge and stuck his approach shot to within 10 feet. He then strode to the green and sank his birdie putt, highlighting a one-under par showing for the Irish in the playoff (birdie, par, par, par), while Louisville went one-over in the same span (par, par, par, bogey) and was hampered when one of its tee shots found the lake next to the 18th fairway.

Entering the final round, Notre Dame was in third place, 12 shots back of Louisville and seven shots behind Marquette, and the Irish knew everything would have to go right and then some if they hoped to defend their back-to-back league titles. However, when the dust settled, all five Irish golfers finished among the top 20 in the 60-man field. Baldwin led the way with a tie for fifth place at four-under par 212 (69-77-66), setting a school 54-hole record for conference tournament play and also becoming the first Notre Dame player ever to be named all-BIG EAST three times. Gustafson and Isban tied for eighth place at three-under par 213, with Gustafson shooting round of 75-71 and a career-low-tying 67, while Isban carded steady marks of 70, 72 and 71.

Balderston was a late addition to the Irish lineup, having not played in a tournament all year long due to injury. In fact, one of his last events as a member of the Notre Dame travel squad came in February 2005, when he helped the Irish win the NOKIA Sugar Bowl Tulane Invitational at New Orleans on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. His contributions this week led to another heart stopping win, as he finished tied for 13th place with a one-under par 215 (72-75-68), with his final-round score being one off his career best (67 at the 2004 John Dallio Memorial Invitational).

Despite his regulation struggles, Sandman closed out his first BIG EAST Championship in a 20th-place tie at one-over par 217 (70-71-76). That score was even more amazing when one considers that a month earlier, he had yet to play a college event because of a back injury.

Last Time Out: Kepler Intercollegiate
For the second time in as many weekends, Notre Dame played in a weather-shortened tournament, as the Irish finished 11th in the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate on April 15 at the Scarlet Course of the Ohio State Golf Club (par 71/7,454 yards) in Columbus, Ohio. The Irish posted a two-round total of 60-over par 628 (314-314) in the 16-team tournament, placing ahead of such notable teams as No. 32 SMU (15th place, 641) and No. 33 Wisconsin (13th place, 639) – No. 20 Louisville won the tournament at 591 (+23).

After the second round was suspended by rain, play resumed the next morning, but due to the delay and travel plans of numerous teams in the field, tournament organizers trimmed the event to 36 holes. The conditions weren’t much better on day two, with only one of the 16 teams breaking 305 for the second round (Louisville at 299). What’s more, only one player managed to reach par for the tournament, as Michigan State’s Matt Harmon took medalist honors with an even-par 142.

Senior co-captain Cole Isban was Notre Dame’s top finisher, tying for 32nd place at 13-over par 155 (79-76), two strokes better than junior Greg Rodgers and sophomore Josh Sandman, who tied for 40th place at 15-over par 157 after each man carded rounds of 78 and 79. Senior co-captain Adam Gifford was tied for 53rd place at 19-over par 161 (81-80), while freshman Doug Fortner shared 78th place at 24-over par 166 (79-87). Junior Mike King competed as an individual this weekend, tying for 81st place at 25-over par 167 (79-88).

Three Tournaments, Three Aces For Irish
It would be difficult to script a much better start than Notre Dame freshmen Doug Fortner and Carl Santos-Ocampo experienced this fall. Between them, the two Irish rookies fired three aces in their first three tournaments, including matching holes-in-one in their respective college debuts 10 days apart.

Fortner was the first to card a “single” on Sept. 16 in the second round of the Gopher Invitational in Wayzata, Minn., pulling out a pitching wedge and sinking his tee shot on the par-3, 139-yard 17th hole at the Spring Hill Golf Club. Not to be outdone, Santos-Ocampo made his mark in the final round of the John Dallio Memorial (a “B” team event for the Irish) in West Chicago, Ill., using a 7-iron to bury his tee shot on the par-3, 175-yard third hole at the Prairie Landing Golf Club.

Santos-Ocampo was at it again on Oct. 10 in the final round of the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic. Playing into a stiff breeze, the diminutive Notre Dame freshman took an 8-iron to the tee of the par-3, fourth hole at the Warren Golf Course and promptly buried his 136-yard tee shot.

Both Fortner and Santos-Ocampo were featured in the Oct. 30 edition of Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” for their accomplishment, which is believed to be the first of its kind in NCAA Division I history.

Next Up: NCAA Regionals (May 17-19)
Should Notre Dame win the BIG EAST Championship (and the conference’s automatic bid) or be chosen as an at-large squad, the Irish would next tee off May 17-19 at the NCAA regionals. The East Regional will be held in Alpharetta, Ga. (Golf Club of Georgia), the Central Regional is slated for Sugar Grove, Ill. (Rich Harvest Farms), and the West Regional will take place in Tempe, Ariz. (ASU Karsten Golf Course). Notre Dame has made 33 postseason appearances, including trips to the past three NCAA regionals, although the Irish have not advanced to the NCAA Championship final since 1966 (prior to the institution of regional play).