May 16, 2006
Notre Dame will step onto the course in NCAA postseason play for the 33rd time in program history, and the third consecutive year, when it participates in the NCAA East Regional Thursday-Saturday at the Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando. The Irish, who won the 1944 NCAA title and have 19 top-10 NCAA finishes to their credit, will be looking to take the next step in their return to national prominence with a trip back to the NCAA finals for the first time since 1966.
Notre Dame comes into the weekend playing some of its best golf of the year, with three consecutive top-six finishes, a third consecutive BIG EAST Conference title, and a 288.33 stroke average, including the top two tournament scores in school history (842 at the BIG EAST, 853 at The Maxwell).
Named the Golfweek National Team of the Week on May 1, Notre Dame continues to enjoy one of its most successful seasons ever in 2005-06, currently posting a school-record 292.42 stroke average with eight top-six finishes and seven wins over Golfweek Top 25 opponents. The Irish also are poised to have at least three players finish with sub-74 stroke averages for the first time ever.
Quoting Coach Kubinski …
“This weekend is the beginning of our journey. One thing is obvious – our seed is not indicative of our chances. It all comes back to the rules error in the fall (at CordeValle) and the corresponding drop in the rankings. We’ve beaten several of the teams seeded in front of us and feel we just need to execute to be successful this weekend.
“We don’t need spectacular play. We need to play solidly and make good decisions. The NCAA will set up a course that tests the players both physically and mentally. We failed the mental test in the opening round in Oklahoma, and we won’t have that luxury in Orlando. We must think well from the opening hole.
“I am very confident that the make-up of this team is special. We have our five players playing the best at this time in the lineup, as it should be, but, as a bonus, the chemistry has been tremendous. They get along well. They work to help each other. It’s a great group.
“As for the physical skills, the five guys representing Notre Dame right now are the longest accurate hitters we could put together. I’ve seen us routinely driving it 300 to 340 yards and in play. Most importantly, though, this group has shown a great ability to score within 60 yards of the hole. They’re putting, pitching and chipping the ball with great confidence and touch.
“Golf is a game played along a fence of emotions. The player with the sturdiest fence has the best chance to win…physical skills being similar. If we can think like professionals out there, show mental maturity, manage our emotions, make sound decisions and combine our physical prowess, we’ll have a chance to do something special. It’s something that can be accomplished.”
Dates and Times
As the No. 16 seed in this year’s NCAA East Regional, Notre Dame will be paired with golfers from Georgia Southern (No. 17) and Maryland (No. 18) for the first two rounds of the event. On Thursday, those threesomes will begin the opening round at 7 a.m. (ET) from the first tee and continuing at approximately nine-minute intervals. Then, on Friday, those groups will go off at 12:12 p.m. (ET) in the second round, starting on the 10th tee.
Saturday’s final round tee times will be based upon the 36-hole team standings. The top 15 squads in the field through two rounds will have the early morning tee times from the first and 10th tees, while those teams in places No. 16-27 will go off in the afternoon.
Following The Irish
Live scoring (every three holes) for the NCAA East Regional will be available through the Golfstat web site (www.golfstat.com). Complete results following each day’s action also will be posted on the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.und.com).
In addition, in-progress updates will be available on the Notre Dame Sports Hotline (574-631-3000) – callers should select option #9, then press #2. Assistant sports information director Chris Masters will be on location with the Irish in Florida and will provide regular live reports from the course on Notre Dame’s progress during all three days of competition at the NCAA East Regional.
The Tournament Format
A total of 27 five-man teams (135 participants plus six individual participants from non-competing teams) will be taking part in the NCAA East Regional. 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 10 teams with the lowest 54-hole scores (and the two lowest-scoring individuals not on a top-10 finisher) will advance to the NCAA Championships, to be held May 31-June 3 on the Crosswater Course at Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Ore.
In case of team ties for NCAA Championship berths, a sudden-death playoff will be utilized, with the top four individual scores on each hole combined for the team total. Individual ties will be broken after any team playoff has concluded.
Notre Dame is the No. 16 seed in this weekend’s NCAA East Regional, the highest regional seeding for the Irish in its three appearances since the current regional format was introduced in 1989. The remainder of the 27-team East Regional field will be as follows (in order of seeding): Georgia, UCLA, UNLV, Georgia State, North Carolina, Southern California, Texas Tech, Wake Forest, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida State, Indiana, Georgia Southern, Maryland, Jacksonville, Western Illinois, Wichita State, Rhode Island, George Washington, Richmond, Liberty, Army and Binghamton.
According to the May 8 ratings in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, each of the top 15 seeds in this year’s 27-team field at the NCAA East Regional are ranked among the Golfweek top 50, including nine in the top 25. Top-ranked Georgia heads the list, followed by No. 5 UCLA, No. 9 UNLV and 11th-ranked Georgia State. No. 12 North Carolina, 13th-ranked Texas Tech, No. 16 Wake Forest (the reigning East Regional champion), No. 19 Southern California and No. 24 Coastal Carolina round out the upper half of the poll.
In addition, the May 9 Golfstat rankings reveal 10 of this weekend’s participants appearing in that service’s Top 25. No. 1 Georgia sets the pace, followed by UCLA (sixth), UNLV (seventh), Georgia State (12th) and North Carolina (13th). Southern California (18th), Texas Tech (19th), Wake Forest (21st), Charlotte (23rd) and Coastal Carolina (25th) complete the Golfstat Top 25.
Notre Dame has faced more than half (14) of the other 26 teams in the field at the NCAA East Regional this season, sporting a combined 8-17 (.471) record against those squads. The highest-seeded team in the regional that the Irish have defeated this year is No. 5 seed North Carolina, whom Notre Dame bested by four strokes at the Coca-Cola Duke Golf Classic back in October. The Irish also have wins over No. 12 seed Tennessee, 14th-seeded Florida State, No. 15 seed Indiana, No. 17 seed Georgia Southern (twice), 21st-seeded Wichita State and No. 22 seed Rhode Island.
The Lake Nona Golf & Country Club is widely considered one of the world’s top 100 courses and has played host to some of the top international events on the calendar, including the World Cup of Golf, the inaugural Solheim Cup, and more recently, the Tavistock Cup, a matchup of the resident professionals at Lake Nona and its sister club, Isleworth, in a competition termed one of the more exciting and intimate of its kind in the world. PGA Tour veterans Tiger Woods (Isleworth) and Ernie Els (Lake Nona) were among the participants at last year’s event.
Lake Nona is a par 72 Tom Fazio-designed layout that covers 7,215 yards of central Florida landscape that tests each of a player’s shot-making abilities. From the natural pine forests and oak groves that line many of the fairways, and the inclusion of three lakes on the property (Buck Lake, Red Lake, Lake Nona), to the numerous sizeable bunkers and the tricky undulating greens, Lake Nona will present a challenge to every team at this week’s NCAA East Regional.
Notre Dame At The NCAA Regionals
The Irish will be making their third appearance in NCAA regional play and their first in the East Regional since the current three-site, 27-team regional format was introduced in 1989. In each of the past two years, Notre Dame has competed in the Central Regional, finishing 12th in 2004 (four shots off the cutline) and tied for 13th last year (two strokes out of a playoff for NCAA Championship advancement). During both instances, the Irish found themselves tied for 10th place and the final NCAA Championship berth with two holes to play, only to have untimely bogeys hurt their chances down the stretch.
Overall, Notre Dame will be competing in NCAA postseason play for the 33rd time, having won the NCAA title in 1944 at the famed Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio (also site of the 2009 NCAA Championships). In addition, the Irish were the NCAA runner-up in 1937, while placing third on four occasions (1931, 1932, 1936, 1951) and among the top 10 at the NCAA finals a total of 19 times (most recently in 1964, when they were fourth at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs).
Noting The Irish In The NCAA Regionals
This weekend’s NCAA East Regional in Orlando will mark the furthest south Notre Dame has ever traveled for NCAA postseason competition. Previously, the Irish had visited Knoxville, Tenn. (Holston Hills Golf Club) for the 1965 NCAA Championships.
Of the five players in Notre Dame’s lineup for the NCAA East Regional, four of them have previous experience in the event, including three who have played in the tournament each of past two years. Senior tri-captains Mark Baldwin and Scott Gustafson, as well as junior tri-captain Cole Isban, have made up the core of the Irish travel squad for the past two NCAA regionals, while senior Tommy Balderston competed in the 2004 Central Regional. Freshman Josh Sandman is the lone newcomer to regional play, although he already has shown a penchant for success in the postseason, having played a pivotal role in Notre Dame’s playoff victory at the BIG EAST Championship last month.
The Irish fired a final-round 282 in last year’s NCAA Central Regional to vault themselves into contention after slipping to 20th place after the second day of competition. That 282 currently is tied for the fifth-lowest round in school history and is the best ever for Notre Dame in postseason play.
In each of the last two years, the Irish have been seeded in the lower half of their NCAA regional field, and yet they have performed much higher than their given seed. In 2004, Notre Dame was a No. 24 seed, but finished 12th for a +12 improvement that was topped by only one team (Wichita State at +13) in the event. Last year, the Irish were seeded 20th and rose to finish tied for 13th place, two shots off the 10-team cutline.
One of the key players on Notre Dame’s 1944 NCAA Championship team, Tom Hanlon, has remained a valuable supporter and mentor to several of the members of this year’s Irish squad. Hanlon, a former assistant with both the Notre Dame men’s and women’s golf teams who still lives in the South Bend area, shared top individual honors for the Irish at that 1944 NCAA Championship, advancing to the quarterfinals, before he joined the Navy later that year and served in the Pacific during World War II. Upon his return, he earned his bachelor’s degree in pre-med from Notre Dame in 1949. Current Notre Dame head coach Jim Kubinski has called upon Hanlon’s wisdom and counsel at times during his tenure and included him in the 2005-06 team photo (which can be seen on page 8 of this year’s Irish media guide).
Last Time Out: The Maxwell
Notre Dame closed out its 2005-06 regular season with a sixth-place finish in the 11-team field at The Maxwell, which was played May 13-14 at the Dornick Hills Golf Club in Ardmore, Okla. The tournament used a unique scoring format that counted the top four scores on each hole, rather than at the conclusion of each round, which led to much lower scores than would normally be shot in a college event. For record-keeping purposes, Notre Dame will recognize the actual on-course score for the event, not the adjusted total, giving the Irish a three-day mark of 13-over par 853 (290-282-281), which still goes down as the second-best 54-hole mark in school history (topped only by an 842 at last month’s BIG EAST Championship).
Senior tri-captain Mark Baldwin led Notre Dame on the individual ladder for the fifth time this season, tying for 16th place at one-over par 211 (68-70-73). Junior tri-captain Cole Isban shared 29th place at four-over par 214 (74-68-72), while senior tri-captain Scott Gustafson made a late run to tie for 36th place at six-over par 216 (76-73-67), including a career-low-tying final round. Freshman Josh Sandman tied for 49th place at 10-over par 220 (72-74-74), while senior Tommy Balderston came back from a first-round disqualification with rounds of 71 and 69 to help the team effort.
Notre Dame Wins Its Third Consecutive BIG EAST Title
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 two separate occasions. The Irish recorded their first hat trick from 1995-97, while St. John’s posted a pair of “four-peats” from 1981-84 and 1986-89.
Notre Dame was in third place, 12 strokes back of tournament leader Louisville, heading into the final round. The Irish then closed with a school-record 272 (-16), including rounds of 66 (Mark Baldwin), 67 (Scott Gustafson) and 68 (Tommy Balderston) to force a sudden death playoff. On the extra hole, freshman Josh Sandman, whose final-round 76 was not counted, sank a 10-foot birdie putt as the Irish finished one-under to Louisville’s one-over and won the title.
The 12-shot comeback was the second-largest in both Notre Dame and BIG EAST Championship history. In 1995, the Irish erased a 13-stroke deficit to oust Connecticut in what was then both a fall tournament and a 36-hole event.
Notre Dame’s 12-stroke rally also was the largest by any conference champion in any league tournament this season. North Carolina was second with an 11-shot comeback that resulted in a shared Atlantic Coast Conference title with Georgia Tech.
The sudden-death playoff was the first in the 26-year history of the BIG EAST Championship. In fact, the tournament had featured only one other tie – in 1989, St. John’s won its most crown based upon the second-round score of its fifth golfer (a tiebreaking procedure no longer employed by the conference).
Notre Dame set school and BIG EAST Championship scoring records for 18 (272, -16) and 54 holes (842, -22). The prior Irish single-round standard was 275, set at the 1999 Air Force Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colo. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s best three-round score had been 854 at the 2004 Nelson Invitational, played on the shortened par-69 Stanford Golf Course.
The Irish registered the third-lowest final-round score (272) for any team in any conference tournament this year, topped only by matching scores of 269 by top-ranked Georgia and No. 3 Florida at the Southeastern Conference Championship (played on a par-70 course). In fact, only two other teams had lower scores in any round of their conference tourneys this year – in the second round of the ACC Championship (par-72 course), Georgia Tech fired a 267, while Clemson had a 268.
Notre Dame Named Golfweek National Team Of The Week
The Irish achieved another first in the 77-year history of their program on May 1 when they were chosen as the Golfweek National Team of the Week. The honor came following Notre Dame’s memorable 12-shot comeback in the final round of the BIG EAST Championship and subsequent playoff victory over Louisville.
The Ranking File
One of the ways Notre Dame has been able to inject itself into the conversation as one of the nation’s upper-echelon programs has been its play against some of the other elite teams in the country. This season, the Irish have defeated seven Top 25 opponents (according to Golfweek), including four in the past four tournaments alone. What’s more, the Irish have ousted 12 ranked teams since head coach Jim Kubinski arrived on the Notre Dame campus in January 2005.
In 2005-06 alone, the Irish have dispatched No. 3 Florida (Shoal Creek Intercollegiate), No. 12 Tennessee (Administaff Augusta State Invitational), No. 16 Texas (The Prestige at PGA WEST), No. 16 Minnesota (Boilermaker Invitational), No. 17 Alabama (Shoal Creek), No. 23 Northwestern (Boilermaker) and No. 23 Tulsa (Maxwell). All rankings are taken from the Golfweek index at the start of the tournament.
A good indication of the progress Notre Dame has made in the short time Jim Kubinski has been head coach can be found in the team’s stroke average. Currently at 292.42, it would shatter the old school record by nearly six shots (298.29 in 1999-2000). In addition, the Irish presently have three players with stroke averages at 74.00 or lower (min. 13.5 rounds) – Cole Isban (72.82), Mark Baldwin (72.97), and Scott Gustafson (73.27), with freshman Josh Sandman (73.00) needing just 1.5 more rounds to join that group. In the 77-year history of the Notre Dame program, the Irish have never had a trio score lower than 75.32 for an entire season (1999-2000 – Todd Vernon at 74.18, Steve Ratay at 74.54 and Alex Kent at 75.32).
One other item to watch is Notre Dame’s progress on a round-by-round basis in each tournament. This season, the Irish are averaging a 295.09 in their opening round before trimming that score to 292.27 in round two. However, Notre Dame has saved its best round for last, firing a 289.91 on average this season.
When it comes to scheduling, the philosophy of Notre Dame head coach Jim Kubinski centers around playing in the nation’s top tournaments on the country’s best courses in order to prepare his team for postseason competition. According to the May 8 Golfweek rankings, the Irish schedule was ranked 57th in the nation, not including last week’s participation in The Maxwell. Upon closer inspection, nine of the first 11 tournaments Notre Dame has played this year are ranked among the 60 toughest in the nation for the 2005-06 season by Golfweek, including five in the top 35. Leading the way is the CordeValle Collegiate (18th), followed by the Administaff Augusta State Invitational (19th), Shoal Creek Intercollegiate (27th), Gopher Invitational (34th) and Coca-Cola Duke Classic (31st).
Some of the premier courses the Irish have played this year include: Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham (site of the 1984 and 1990 PGA Championships), PGA WEST in La Quinta, Calif. (site of numerous PGA Tour events in the past two decades), the TPC of Myrtle Beach (S.C.), and the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex/Kampen Course in West Lafayette, Ind. (site of three previous NCAA regionals/finals and host of the 2008 NCAA Championships).
For much of the 2005-06 season, freshman Josh Sandman was forced to the sidelines with a nagging back injury. However, the problem cleared up enough to allow the rookie to enter the Notre Dame lineup on April 1-2 at the Administaff Augusta State Invitational, and since then, the Greensboro, N.C., native has been a major contributor to Irish fortunes.
In just four tournaments this year, Sandman is posting a 73.00 stroke average, with four rounds coming in at par or better, including one in the 60s. He also has finished in the top 25 three times, peaking with a tie for second at the Boilermaker Invitational on April 8-9. Yet, his biggest contribution to date came on after his only discounted round of the season (76 in the final round at the BIG EAST Championship), when he knocked his difficult approach shot from a tough downhill lie near a fairway bunker within 10 feet of the pin and made the ensuing birdie putt to help Notre Dame win its third consecutive BIG EAST title.
Next Up For The Irish: NCAA Championships (May 31-June 3)
Should Notre Dame finish in the top 10 at this weekend’s NCAA East Regional, the Irish would advance to the NCAA Championships, to be held May 31-June 3 on the Crosswater Course at Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Ore. It would be Notre Dame’s first NCAA finals appearance in 40 years (and 31st overall trip to the NCAA Championships), well before the institution of the current regional format in 1989.