April 23, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Conference championship season in men’s golf has once again arrived, and the University of Notre Dame men’s golf team is one of 12 squads vying for the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship title this weekend. The 54-hole tournament will be contested Friday through Sunday at the Old North State Club in New London, North Carolina.
First round play is scheduled to begin on Friday at 8:30 a.m. (ET), with Notre Dame, Boston College and No. 48 North Carolina State as the first three teams out on the par-72, 7,102-yard layout. Second round tee times Saturday are tentatively scheduled for 8:30 a.m. off the first hole, with Sunday’s final round getting under way off the first and 10th tees at 8:30 a.m.
“The last few weeks have been really good for us,” Notre Dame head coach Jim Kubinski said.Â “I think pretty much to a man, throughout the team we’ve had a great level of focus. We have had highly motivated guys the last few weeks and I am very proud of that. You have a team that wanted to play better in different spots over the season and sometimes it’s difficult to maintain that high level of focus throughout, but our guys did that.”
Notre Dame makes its first tournament appearance since finishing in 11th place at the Mason Rudolph Championship on April 3-5 in Franklin, Tennessee. The Irish got off to a solid start during the opening round of the event held at the Vanderbilt University Legends Club, and have used that experience against eight of the top 50 teams in Division I men’s golf to prepare for the ACC Championship.
“The level of improvement has been palpable the last few weeks just watching them play, the scores have been generally very good,” Kubinski said. “Matthew Rushton got it to 10-under during the prep period, and I know Thomas Steve got it under par as well, so there are some red numbers there. We have had a number of good results through their focused work, and the real focus of it all has been on short-iron approaches. We have been through every club in the bag and worked on our short game and driving as well, and they all have done a nice job.”
Being able to spend the past two weeks training on specific factors of each player’s game, Kubinski said, provided a measurable advantage in conference tournament preparation that might not have been available with another event on the schedule. The added training time broke the cycle of the normal flow that college golfers become accustomed to.
“The college golf season is such that there are very few teams that break away from a general pattern for very long,” Kubinski said. “If a team is playing really well, they get on a roll and have a certain confidence and approach and can take it through an entire semester. A team that is struggling, because you’re playing and turning around getting on the road within a week or two, it’s tough to make major changes and improvements week-to-week. When you have these breaks it’s a really nice thing, but there is a balance that you need. You need the competition and reps in competition, so you don’t want to take too much of a break.
“Coming off Vanderbilt where we had a good start but did not play as well the last couple of rounds, I think it was helpful for us to have a few weeks to look at what we needed to work on and how we were going to do it,” he added. “We also made our practices a bit tougher and a bit more challenging to create an environment similar to tournaments so they could get their work in that way.”
Notre Dame’s lineup has remained predominantly youthful throughout the 2014-15 season, and the five players taking part in the ACC Championship are reflective of that. Along with sophomore Rushton and freshman Steve will be junior Cory Sciupider and sophomore Blake Barens teeing it up alongside senior Tyler Wingo at the Old North State Club.
“Our guys are very resilient,” Kubinski said. “We have taken more losses this year than probably anyone would have anticipated, but the opportunity for Thomas, Matt, Blake and other players to grow has been very important. Our best players the last 10 years, Cole Isban, Josh Sandman, Max Scodro, Niall Platt, those guys all played as freshmen. A lot of times we forget their scoring averages as freshmen and sophomores weren’t typically as good as when they were juniors and seniors.
“We have played some of those guys this year that will grow, and they have had good windows of play,” Kubinski said. “Now they are learning to be more consistent, to keep their skillset at the point where they can repeat it for a longer duration and take it from there week-to-week. It’s exciting to see that they stay motivated and still believe that they are capable of sustained good play. That is fun to be around.”
Awaiting the Irish is a challenging field of ACC foes that boasts 10 teams ranked in the top 50 of the most recent GolfStat rankings. For the battle-tested Notre Dame team that has competed against its share of deep fields this season, the feel of the conference tournament is very familiar.
“‘Old Man Par’ doesn’t change wherever you are, and I look at last year where Georgia Tech ran away and hid on the last day and separated themselves, but after two rounds last year we were in a good position,” Kubinski said. “We were within 10 or 12 of the lead, and counting four scores you think that if you play well you can get there. This year, too, we have had a lot of tournaments where two players have played well, and if four players could get there all of a sudden you’re in contention. Who knows where that takes a young team when it gets there. Sometimes you feel like you need to be in those situations multiple times to go ahead and win, and sometimes a team just puts it together.
“That happened with Georgetown at the BIG EAST Championship in 2010, they were ranked in the 200s that year and won the conference championship. They put themselves into contention and they reacted well. We can get those four scores starting out in the first round like we did at Vanderbilt, we had good scores there and were only four behind Alabama after the first round. Similarly in the ACC Championship, let’s get off to a solid start, do a good job and see where that takes us.”
Rushton and Sciupider each earned a start at the 2014 ACC Championship that was contested at the Old North State Club, where Notre Dame placed seventh in its first conference tournament as a league member. Kubinski and assistant coach Scott Gump will rely heavily on the experience and course knowledge that both players possess this weekend to bring the other three members of the lineup up to speed.
“Matt and Cory will be our two returning players and will be able to help out Tyler, Blake and Thomas in terms of learning the golf course,” Kubinski said. “The Old North State Club is the type of golf course that if you get on the wrong side of it, it’s tough to get up and down. If you’re in good position you can make birdies, and that has been proven over the years there. The course knowledge will help and I think Cory and Matt will do a good job of educating the other players, as will Coach Gump and I.
“What we have been able to do this year is put together good plans overall,” Kubinski added. “I really like our approach in talking to the players going in. What you see with a young team sometimes that has happened with a couple players, who have been very honest in our debriefs, is that the emotion of the tournament has caused them to change their game plan. They have tried to do some things they probably shouldn’t do, and they have learned from that over the course of the year.”
Live results will be available throughout the weekend through GolfStatresults.com and TheACC.com. Live coverage will be provided on ESPN3 Saturday from 3-5 p.m. (ET) and Sunday from 1-3:30 p.m., with Bob Fiscella and Brandon Turner on the call.
“I am optimistic we will put good plans together, and this time out and moving forward we will be able to stick with that plan and handle those emotions that rise in the round,” Kubinski said. “You made a bogey you shouldn’t have, you did something you shouldn’t have, if we can eliminate that we will see some really good scores.”