April 23, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – After narrowly missing out on the BIG EAST Conference title last year, the Notre Dame men’s golf team will look to grab the brass ring this weekend when it plays host to the BIG EAST Championship at Warren Golf Course on the Notre Dame campus. The Irish have finished second to Virginia Tech in the conference tournament each of the last two years, including a slim two-stroke margin in 2003. The winner of this weekend’s tournament will earn the BIG EAST’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championship, a place Notre Dame has not visited since 1966.
Dates and Times: Teams will play the first two rounds (36 holes) on Saturday and come back for the final 18 holes on Sunday. During Saturday’s first two rounds, the Irish will go off in threesomes with players from Virginia Tech and Georgetown, with the first groups hitting the tee at 8:50 a.m. (EST) and 1:50 p.m. (EST). For Sunday’s final round, the teams will be paired up based on their standing through the first 36 holes, with the teams in fourth-sixth place beginning at 8 a.m. (EST) and the first-third place squads teeing off starting at 8:50 a.m. (EST).
The Course: The BIG EAST Championship returns to Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course for the second consecutive year. The course unofficially plays as a par-71, 7,011-yard layout from the championship tees, although part of the appeal of the Warren setup is its similarity to the traditional Muirfield Course in Scotland, which does not feature par for the course. Instead, only the yardage is posted for each hole, allowing players to attack the course from their own perspective without the preconceived notions inherent to par.
Tickets/Credentials: Admission to the 2004 BIG EAST Championship at the Warren Golf Course is free to the public on both days of competition. The entrance to the course is located on Douglas Road, with parking available to the left of the entrance driveway. The clubhouse at the Warren Golf Course will be open during the tournament.
Media members wishing to cover the BIG EAST Championship do not need to obtain credentials for the event. However, all patrons in attendance (media and fans) are asked to respect the rules of golf etiquette at all times. Notre Dame assistant sports information directors Chris Masters and Tim Connor, as well as sports information student assistant Adam Porcelli, will be on hand at Warren Golf Course to assist media members with any interview requests or other needs they might have.
The Teams: This year’s BIG EAST Championship features a six-team field, led by three-time defending champion Virginia Tech. The top-seeded Hokies have won the league title each year they have been in the league and this will be their final opportunity to hoist the hardware as they depart for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) next year. Georgetown is the No. 2 seed after winning four tournaments this year. The Hoyas finished third at last year’s conference championship behind Notre Dame. The Irish are the third seed this year and boast one tournament title (the SMU/Stonebridge Invitational) and two runner-up placements (The Tillinghast and the Rice Intercollegiate) in 2003-04. Rounding out this year’s field are Rutgers, Boston College and St. John’s.
Virginia Tech is the highest-ranked team in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index ratings, placing 69th in the country. Notre Dame is next at No. 86, with Georgetown close behind at No. 94. The Irish have faced four of the five other schools competing in this weekend’s BIG EAST Championship, going 4-0 with wins over Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Boston College and St. John’s.
Irish At The BIG EAST Championship: Notre Dame has taken part in every BIG EAST Championship since joining the conference in 1995-96. The Irish won the league title in each of their first three years in the BIG EAST (1995, 1996, 1997), all coming when the conference tourney was played in the fall. In the ensuing five years (1998-present), Notre Dame has placed second three times and third once, with last year’s two-stroke margin the closest the Irish have come to recapturing the championship.
What’s At Stake This Weekend: The winner of this weekend’s BIG EAST Championship will be awarded the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Championship. The NCAA Regionals will take place May 20-22, and should Notre Dame come out on top, the Irish would be placed in the Central Regional which will be hosted by Purdue University at the Kampen Course at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex in West Lafayette, Ind.
Tournament Results: Live tournament scoring from the BIG EAST Championship will be available through the Golfstat web site (http://www.golfstatresults.com/home.cfm). In addition, results from the BIG EAST Championship will be available on both the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.und.com) and the official BIG EAST web site (www.bigeast.org) upon completion of action on both days of the tournament. Scoring updates from the tournament also will be posted on the Notre Dame Sports Hotline (574-631-3000) as they are available.
Irish Lineup: Notre Dame is the only team in this year’s BIG EAST Championship to boast three returning all-conference selections – and all three men are in the Irish lineup this weekend. Sophomore Scott Gustafson (Eden Prairie, Minn./Eden Prairie HS) finished in a second-place tie at last year’s conference tournament at 11-over par 221, and he owns a 73.97 stroke average this season (currently fifth-best in school history). Sophomore Mark Baldwin (Laconia, N.H./New Hampton Prep) was sixth at last season’s BIG EAST tourney at 14-over par 224 – he has had an up-and-down second year, posting a 77.48 stroke average in 2003-04. Sophomore Tommy Balderston (Boca Raton, Fla./St. Andrews HS) also earned all-BIG EAST honors with a seventh-place showing last year at 16-over par 226. Balderston has the third-best stroke average on the team this season at 75.48, including a pair of top-five finishes. Sophomore Eric Deutsch (Rochester, Minn./Lourdes HS) placed 11th at the 2003 BIG EAST Championship at 20-over par 230, and carries a 77.61 stroke average into this year’s event. The lone newcomer in the Irish quintet is freshman Cole Isban (South Bend, Ind./Mishawaka Marian HS), who has offered an added boost to the Notre Dame lineup this year with a 75.07 stroke average, the second-best mark on the squad. He also has been particularly reliable for the Irish, as 26 of his 28 rounds (.929) have counted towards the team score.
Last Tournament: Notre Dame fired a final-round 303 to place 15th at the Boilermaker Invitational, which was contested April 10-11 in West Lafayette, Ind., at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex. The Irish finished with a three-round total of 44-over par 908 (303-302-303), putting them 53 strokes behind tournament champion and host Purdue. The 18-team event was held at the par 72, 7,035-yard Kampen Course that will play host to the NCAA Central Regional next month.
Sophomore Scott Gustafson looked solid all weekend long, finishing with a final-round 73 to post a five-over par 221 (72-76-73) for the tournament. In five events this spring, Gustafson has shot 222 or better four times and in his last 12 rounds, he has shot higher than 75 just twice.
Freshman Cole Isban stumbled a bit on the final day, shooting a 78 to close in 60th place at 13-over par 229 (75-76-78). However, sophomore Tommy Balderston made up for Isban’s troubles with an even-par 72, the best final-round score by the Irish on Sunday and the seventh round of par or better for Balderston this year. He finished at 16-over par 232 (82-78-72), tied for 69th place with classmate Eric Deutsch, who opened with rounds of 78 and 74 before struggling to an 80 on his final circuit.
Sophomore Mark Baldwin also had his difficulties during the final round, carding an 82 and winding up in 83rd place with a score of 20-over par 236 (78-76-82).
Tough Schedule: No one can say Notre Dame has backed away from top competition this year. In fact, during the course of the 2003-04 season, the Irish have faced 42 of the top 50 teams in the country, according to the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index rankings. Notre Dame also has played eight of the top 10 teams in that poll, as well as 14 of the 18 teams that competed in last year’s NCAA Championships, including defending national champion Clemson and runner-up Oklahoma State.
Second Servings: The Irish have posted their best team scores during the second round of tournament play this year, carding a 299.00 in the middle 18 holes. Leading the charge in the second round have been sophomore Scott Gustafson (72.90) and freshman Cole Isban (73.56).
Making It Count: Freshman Cole Isban has been particularly efficient in his rookie season at Notre Dame. The South Bend native has seen 92 percent of his rounds (26 of 28) count towards the team score in 2003-04. Sophomore Scott Gustafson isn’t far behind Isban with 89.7 percent of his rounds (26 of 29) counting this year.
Team Records Watch: Notre Dame has recorded a 300.14 stroke average in 2003-04, which matches the sixth-best team total in school history and equals the best in the three-year tenure of head coach John Jasinski (also 300.14 in 2001-02). The Irish are not far off the top scoring mark in the program’s history, a 298.29 average set by the 1999-2000 squad.
Individual Records Watch: Sophomore Scott Gustafson’s current 73.97 season stroke average is fifth-best in school history, while freshman Cole Isban’s 75.07 mark is good for 17th on the Irish single-season charts. Only five times in Notre Dame’s 75-year golf history have two teammates posted sub-75 scoring averages for an entire season – 1955-56 (Joe Grace – 73.13 and Charles Thurn – 73.88), 1997-98 (Willie Kent – 74.07 and Todd Vernon – 74.59), 1998-99 (Kent – 74.76 and Brad Hardin – 74.81), 1999-00 (Vernon – 74.18 and Steve Ratay – 74.54) and 2000-01 (Ratay – 73.68 and Alex Kent – 74.18). Another stat to watch is Tommy Balderston’s current 75.38 stroke average … Notre Dame has never had three players card sub-75 scoring averages for an entire campaign.
Head Coach John Jasinski: Closing out his third season at Notre Dame, head coach John Jasinski has the Irish pointed squarely in the direction of championship gold. In his first two years under the Golden Dome, Jasinski has guided Notre Dame to consecutive runner-up finishes at the BIG EAST Championship while helping his charges post two of the top eight single-season team stroke averages in school history. In addition, Jasinski piloted a Notre Dame lineup with three sophomores and two freshmen to its first tournament title since 1999 with a one-stroke win at the SMU/Stonebridge Invitational last October. Prior to his arrival at Notre Dame, Jasinski spent nine seasons as the head coach at Toledo, leading the Rockets to four consecutive trips in the NCAA Championships, including three berths in the finals from 1999-2001.
Next For The Irish: Notre Dame will close out the 2003-04 regular season next weekend when it travels to East Lansing, Mich., for the Bruce Fossum/TaylorMade Classic, hosted by Michigan State University. The tournament will take place May 1-2 at the Forest Akers West Golf Course in East Lansing. Last year, the Irish finished 10th in the 14-team field at the event.
— ND —