Dec. 12, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame head men’s golf coach Jim Kubinski announced Monday that Doug Fortner (Tustin, Calif./Foothill HS) and Kyle Willis (Lake Forest, Ill./Lake Forest HS) have signed National Letters of Intent to enroll at the University in the fall of 2006. Fortner and Willis are the first two student-athletes to commit to play next season for the Irish, who will be seeking to replace five monogram winners that will graduate in May.
“We’re ecstatic about signing two nationally and highly-ranked players in Doug and Kyle,” Kubinski said. “I feel both men will add a lot to our program in several ways — in a competitive sense on the golf course, in the classroom, and also in terms of their character and work ethic. They’re both hard-working student-athletes that will fit into what we’re looking to achieve from the moment they join our University.
“Our continued efforts to make Notre Dame golf one of the top programs in the country are further buoyed by these commitments,” he continued. “We’ve tried to stress our ability to recruit nationally and also focus on the development of our players. Judging by our recent commitments and the fact that we went from having no player ranked in the top 100 in college golf last season, to having three players in the top 80 this season, we are very excited about the future of our program. Certainly, Doug and Kyle will be a great part of our success.”
Fortner has been a regular on the junior golf scene during the past two seasons and has been ranked as high as 24th in the nation among players in the Class of 2006 (and 42nd overall) by the National Junior Golf Scoreboard. In 14 junior golf events during the 2005 season, he posted a 72.52 stroke average, had nine rounds in the 60s, and placed among the top four on 10 occasions, including wins at the International Junior Golf Tour (IJGT)/Arizona State event in January (shot a four-under 140) and the Southern California PGA Metropolitan Tour’s Tournament of Champions in August (fired a six-under 136). He also wound up sixth on the 2005 Nike Junior Series Points List, and 12th on the ’05 IJGT Merit Points List. On top of that, he traveled to Scotland in August 2005, and wound up shooting a course-record 65 at the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club in Norfolk, Scotland, despite never having played the course before.
During his first three years at Foothill High School in Tustin, Calif., Fortner has been a three-time individual qualifier for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Championship and has earned first-team all-SeaView League awards each year, including Most Valuable Player honors as a sophomore in 2003-04 when he led FHS to the league title. An outstanding student, Fortner has garnered Principal’s Honor Roll citations in his first six prep semesters, including “high honors” distinctions (GPA of 3.5 or better) in each of the past five terms. Furthermore, he received an FHS Academic Award of Excellence in 2005 (GPA of 4.0 or better), and also was honored with an Advanced Placement Scholar Award.
Born Jan. 29, 1988, in Santa Ana, Calif., Fortner is the older of two children and only son of Elizabeth and Gary Fortner. He will be seeking to become the seventh California native to monogram in golf at Notre Dame, and the first since Kit Burton competed for the Irish from 1993-96, helping Notre Dame win the first of its five BIG EAST Conference titles during his senior season.
“I first saw Doug a couple of years ago at a tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina,” Kubinski said. “The fact that he resides in southern California and yet was playing an event on the East Coast signified his commitment to competing against the nation’s best junior players. He has developed both physically and mentally through the past 18 months and I feel, as he continues to work, that he can compete for a starting spot next season.”
Like his new classmate, Willis has been a stalwart on the junior golf and high school circuits in recent seasons. During the past three years, he has registered a 74.70 stroke average in junior golf action, including a top-35 finish at the 167-player Future Collegians World Tour (FCWT) National Championship in 2004. He also competed at the 2005 United States Junior Amateur Championship in Longmeadow, Mass., finishing second during his qualifier.
During his three-year tenure at Lake Forest (Ill.) High School, Willis logged a 75.10 stroke average, earning all-North Suburban League honors all three seasons while helping his team win two conference and two regional titles, as well as the 2004 Illinois state championship. In addition, he won back-to-back Lake County Invitational crowns, the first with a course-record 63 at the Countryside Golf Club (highlighted by a 28 on the back nine). Willis has been just as sharp in the classroom, posting a 4.9 cumulative GPA on a 5.0 scale. He also was a three-time member of the North Suburban League All-Academic Team, and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Born Feb. 15, 1988, in Lake Forest, Ill., Willis is the oldest of three children and one of two sons born to Sally and Bill Willis. He continues the traditional pipeline of talent from Illinois to the Notre Dame men’s golf program, with 45 Illinois residents having earned golf monograms with the Irish. The most recent product from the Land of Lincoln to play at Notre Dame was Arlington Heights native Steve Ratay (1999-2002), who was a two-time all-BIG EAST selection and two-time CoSIDA Academic All-America pick while posting the third-lowest career stroke average in school history (74.46).
“My first opportunity to watch Kyle came at the U.S. Junior Amateur this past summer,” Kubinski said. “Just qualifying for the `U.S. Open of junior golf’ was an accomplishment in itself. Kyle also has played in a very competitive high school area outside of Chicago, an area I first recruited while helping sign Michael Schachner at Duke. I think Kyle brings a number of positives to the program, and I also look for contributions from Kyle in the coming seasons and feel he’ll compete right away.
Notre Dame is off to one of its strongest starts in four decades in 2005-06, carding a 292.50 stroke average while rising as high as 12th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index ratings in mid-October. What’s more, the three Irish captains are appearing in the top 80 of the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index individual rankings — senior Scott Gustafson (Eden Prairie, Minn./Eden Prairie HS) is 38th, junior Cole Isban (South Bend, Ind./Mishawaka Marian HS) is 68th, and senior Mark Baldwin (Laconia, N.H./New Hampton Prep) is 77th.
The two-time defending BIG EAST champion, Notre Dame will open its 2006 spring season Feb. 27-28 at the 12-team Lexus Naples Intercollegiate Invitational, hosted by PGA Tour veteran Peter Jacobson at the Hammock Bay Golf and Country Club in Naples, Fla.
— ND —