Junior tri-captain Cole Isban, who was named to the PING All-Midwest Region Team for the second consecutive year, will compete for a berth in the 2006 U.S. Open at a sectional qualifier Monday in St. Charles, Ill.

Irish Tee Off At Home In NCAA Central Regional

May 17, 2005

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In sports, playing at home can provide a team with a significant edge. Notre Dame hopes that adage holds true this weekend as it plays host to the 2005 NCAA Central Regional Thursday through Saturday at the Warren Golf Course. The Irish returned to NCAA postseason play in 2004 after a 38-year hiatus and now they are hungry to make the school’s first trip to the NCAA finals since 1966, recalling the program’s proud heritage that includes 10 top-five NCAA Championship finishes and the 1944 national title.

Under the guidance of first-year head coach Jim Kubinski, the Irish have had a wildly successful spring season, going 46-23-2 (.662) with four top-five finishes, including championships at the NOKIA Sugar Bowl Tulane Invitational back in March, and the BIG EAST Conference Championship just last month.

Quoting Coach Kubinski
“Coaches are always concerned with the lag time between conference championships and NCAA regionals. In our case, we are dealing with span of 25 days free of competition, which presents a challenge.

“The Central Regional is loaded with solid teams and the seeding process had to be difficult for the NCAA Committee. While our Fall play was somewhat undistinguished, I feel our play this Spring has been commensurate with that of Top 30 teams, with the exception of a stubbed toe at Texas A&M. Our No. 20 seed is appropriate when considering our year as a whole. However, on Spring play alone, we could have been seeded in the 10-15 range. With 10 teams qualifying, that would leave us knocking on the door, regardless of where the regional was held. As host, and considering our solid efforts of late, I expect us to find a spot in the field at Caves Valley in the NCAA finals.”

Dates and Times
Teams will play one round (18 holes) each day from Thursday through Saturday, with two “waves” of competition scheduled to take place from the first and 10th tees. The early “wave” will start at 7:12 a.m. (EST/CDT), with the later session slated to get underway at 11:15 a.m. (EST/CDT) on Thursday and 11:51 a.m. (EST/CDT) on Friday and Saturday.

In the first two rounds, teams have preassigned tee times determined by their seeds. For Saturday’s final round, the tee times will be assigned based upon the standings through the first 36 holes, with the top 15 teams and the six individual golfers going off in the morning session.

As the 20th seed in the Central Regional, Notre Dame has been paired with 19th-seeded Baylor and No. 21 seed Lamar for the first two rounds of the event. Those schools will be the first to tee off on Thursday from No. 10, with the No. 5 golfers in each lineup starting at 7:12 a.m. (EST/CDT) and the remaining four players following at nine-minute intervals. On Friday, the groups featuring Notre Dame will start at the first tee beginning at 11:51 a.m. (EST/CDT).

Tournament Updates/Results
Live scoring will be available for this tournament, courtesy of Golfstat (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, the latest information on the Irish is available on the Notre Dame Sports Hotline (574-631-3000). Callers should select option #9, then press #2 for the latest information on the tournament, as well as weather or scheduling delays.

Thanks to the considerable efforts of Mike Reilly at College Sports Online in Carlsbad, Calif., a special web page also has been constructed to assist interested persons in learning more about the NCAA Central Regional.

The Tournament Format
A total of 27 five-man teams, as well as six individuals (141 total participants) will be competing in the NCAA Central Regional. Conventional collegiate golf team scoring rules will apply, with the lowest four scores in the five-man lineup in each round counting toward the team total.

The NCAA Central Regional serves as a preliminary qualifier for the 2005 NCAA Championships, to be played June 1-4 at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. (a suburb of Baltimore). The top 10 teams to emerge from this week’s Central Regional, as well as the top two individuals who are not on a qualifying team, will advance to the NCAA Championships.

The Teams
Notre Dame is the 20th seed in this weekend’s 27-team NCAA Central Regional. The Irish are joined by (in order of seeding): Oklahoma State, Augusta State, TCU, Kentucky, Texas, Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Kent State, Texas Tech, SMU, Tulsa, Wichita State, Xavier, Texas A&M, Kansas, Arkansas, Baylor, Lamar, Missouri, Kansas State, IUPUI, Jackson State, Detroit and Loyola (Md.). In addition, individuals from Arkansas-Little Rock, Colorado, Eastern Michigan, Illinois, Northwestern and Ohio State will be participating in the Central Regional.

In the current GCAA/Bridgestone coaches’ poll (as of May 6), seven Top 25 teams are appearing in the NCAA Central Regional at Notre Dame – No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 9 Augusta State, No. 10 TCU, No. 11 Kentucky, No. 19 Texas, No. 22 Minnesota and No. 25 Michigan State. An additional eight squads presently are receiving votes in that poll – Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas Tech, Arkansas, SMU, Tulsa, Kent State and Purdue. Combined, these 15 teams make up more than half of the field at the Central Regional.

According to the latest Golfstat rankings (as of May 10), eight Top 25 clubs are scheduled to compete in South Bend this weekend – No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 6 Augusta State, No. 9 TCU, No. 11 Kentucky, No. 17 Texas, No. 23 Purdue, No. 24 Minnesota and No. 25 Oklahoma. Also, five of the nation’s top 20 competitors in the current Golfstat Cup standings will do battle this weekend – seventh-ranked Pablo Martin (Oklahoma State), No. 10 Tyler Leon (Oklahoma State), 11th-ranked Anthony Kim (Oklahoma), No. 19 John Holmes (Kentucky) and 20th-ranked Zack Robinson (Oklahoma State). Holmes comes into the event as the defending Central Regional medalist, having led Kentucky to the regional team title last year at Purdue’s Kampen Course.

A third set of ratings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, notes a total of seven Top 25 squads are playing in this week’s NCAA Central Regional – No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 8 Augusta State, No. 9 TCU, No. 11 Kentucky, No. 19 Texas, No. 21 Michigan State and No. 24 Minnesota. Furthermore, five of Golfweek’s top 15 golfers in the country will come to town – fifth-ranked Martin, No. 7 Leon, ninth-ranked Kim, No. 10 Holmes and 12th-ranked Robinson.

This season, Notre Dame is 11-31 against the rest of the NCAA Central Regional field (8-18 fall; 3-13 spring). However, it should be noted that nine of the 13 Irish losses this spring came in one tournament (the Aggie Invitational) – Notre Dame went 3-4 against the regional field the remainder of the spring, defeating Purdue and Kansas State at the General Jim Hackler Invitational, and ousting Tulsa en route to winning the season-opening NOKIA Sugar Bowl Tulane Invitational.

The Course
For the second time in school history, Notre Dame is playing host to an NCAA postseason golf tournament, and for the first time, that event will take place on the Notre Dame campus. In 1942, the Irish served as the host squad for the NCAA Championships, which were contested at the South Bend Country Club.

This time around, Notre Dame’s five-year-old Warren Golf Course is playing host to the NCAA Central Regional. A par-70, 7,011-yard layout designed by PGA Tour veteran Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the Warren Golf Course is based on a traditional walkable Irish and American courses favored around the turn of the 20th century. The course winds its way through 250 wooded acres and is based on subtleties rather than special effects, including small, undulating greens and several strategically-placed bunkers (all of which were recently renovated as part of a course-wide improvement project). The Warren Golf Course also will play host to U.S. Amateur and Western Amateur qualifiers this summer.

2004 NCAA Central Regional Rewind
One of the more successful seasons in the past four decades came to an end for Notre Dame, as the Irish carded a final-round 307 (+19) to finish in 12th place at the NCAA Central Regional, which was contested on the Kampen Course (7,259 yards, par 72) at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex in West Lafayette, Ind. The top 10 teams in the 27-team regional field earned spots in the NCAA Championship, with Notre Dame’s three-day score of 914 (+50) putting the Irish only four strokes behind Kent State for the coveted final qualifying position.

Notre Dame was making its first appearance in an NCAA postseason tournament since 1966, when the Irish placed 11th at the NCAA Championship. Although none of the Notre Dame golfers had any postseason experience entering the 2004 regional, the Irish played like cagey veterans and exceeded virtually all expectations. In fact, Notre Dame was seeded 24th in the Central Regional and wound up in 12th place, a +12 differential. Only Wichita State (+13) and the host school, Purdue (+12) could match Notre Dame’s improvement over the weekend.

Kentucky fired a final-round 299 (+11) and finished at 882 (+18) to win the Central Regional by 11 shots over Oklahoma State. UK’s John Holmes took home medalist honors by shooting a final-round 71 to finish at two-under par 214, two shots better than SMU’s Will Dodson. In addition, A.J. Elgert of Kansas State and Jeff Overton of Indiana were the two lowest scoring individuals among the non-qualifying teams (both men tied for 12th place at six-over par 222) and they garnered berths in the NCAA Championship.

On a day when virtually every team in the field was at least 10 strokes over par, Notre Dame was 15-over on the final day (+1 on the tricky back nine) and was right in the thick of things as it came to the closing two holes, tied at +46 with Kent State, which was already in the clubhouse. However, the 17th and 18th holes at the Kampen Course are generally considered to be among the hardest on the Pete Dye-designed layout and they wound up hitting the Irish just enough to knock them out of contention. Mark Baldwin (Laconia, N.H./New Hampton Prep) was at even par on his final round as he came to the par-3 17th hole, but his aggressive shot to the treacherous pin placement was just off-line and wound up resulting in a double bogey.

Despite the stumble at No. 17, Baldwin turned in the best score of the day with a two-over par 74, completing the 54-hole event at 227 (+11), good for a 30th-place tie. Eric Deutsch (Rochester, Minn./Lourdes HS) also had some trouble in the final round with a seven-over 79, but he still recorded a 226 (+10) for the tournament to lead all Irish golfers and put him tied for 27th place overall.

Like Deutsch, Scott Gustafson (Eden Prairie, Minn./Eden Prairie HS) collected a seven-over par 79 in the third round and ended his regional stay with a score of 229 (+13), which earned him a share of 38th place. Meanwhile, Cole Isban (South Bend, Ind./Mishawaka Marian HS) relieved some of the sting from a pair of tough early rounds with a three-over par 75 on the final circuit, giving him a final total of 238 (+22) and a tie for 97th place. Tommy Balderston (Boca Raton, Fla./St. Andrews HS) completed the Notre Dame quintet with a third-round 86 to wind up with a three-day score of 247 (+31), putting him in a 125th-place deadlock.

Big Steps For The BIG EAST
For the first time in conference history, three BIG EAST schools will be competing in NCAA regional play this weekend. In addition to Notre Dame’s automatic selection as a result of winning the conference championship, Rutgers and Boston College both garnered at-large bids to the NCAA East Regional, which is being contested at The Golf Club of Tennessee in Nashville. RU is the No. 24 seed in the East Regional, while BC was tapped as the 27th seed.

Future BIG EAST member Louisville also made the NCAA regional field, earning its first-ever postseason bid (an at-large choice) as the No. 16 seed in the East. The Cardinals will join the conference on July 1, along with Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette and South Florida.

Thumbnails On The Irish Lineup
Cole Isban (75.17 spring; 74.33 overall) – Has started all 12 tournaments for the Irish this season leads team in overall stroke average and is second in spring average (among starters) overall stroke average is 10th-best single-season mark in school history has five top-10 finishes this year, including three top-five showings has not placed lower than 30th in any tournament this year has had a team-best 90.9 percent of his rounds (30 of 33) count toward the team score also has team-best eight rounds of par or better two-time all-BIG EAST Conference selection (2004, 2005).

Mark Baldwin (75.00 spring; 75.11 overall) – Leads team in spring stroke average and is second (to Isban) in overall stroke average has played in 10 tournaments this year has three top-five finishes to his credit, including medalist honors in two of his last three outings (TCU dual match and BIG EAST Conference Championship) shot school and Warren Golf Course-record 63 (-7) in opening round of TCU dual has ended up 20th or higher in six of his last eight events (five times in spring season) has had 90.5 percent of his rounds (19 of 21) count to the team total has shaved nearly one-third of a stroke off his career average (down to 75.89) and is enjoying the best year of his three-year tenure two-time all-BIG EAST choice (2003, 2005).

Eric Deutsch (78.50 spring; 76.70 overall) – has started nine events (four this spring) has two top-10 finishes this year, including a tie for third at the BIG EAST Conference Championship and a sixth-place outing at the TCU dual led all Notre Dame individuals at that match, carding a five-over par 145 a two-time all-BIG EAST selection (2004, 2005) was top Irish finisher at last year’s NCAA Central Regional, tying for 27th place at 10-over par 226 – also set new Notre Dame postseason scoring record for 36 holes, carding a 147 (76-71) during the first two rounds.

Scott Gustafson (77.53 spring; 77.30 overall) – Junior still not 100 percent following injuries suffered in fall automobile accident 2003 all-BIG EAST pick after placing second with a score of 221 (+11) is second among Irish veterans with 75.38 career stroke average has five career top-10 finishes, including two this year (tied for eighth at TCU dual).

Mike King (79.00 spring; 76.05 overall) – freshman has started eight tournaments this year (once this spring) earned his way into the starting five with a 72.5 stroke average during his last four rounds (67-71-72-80) at the Warren Golf Course – three in a team playoff, one in BIG EAST Championship has three top-10 finishes this season, most recently tying for ninth at the BIG EAST Conference Championship with a 10-over par 80 in snowy conditions.

Poll Position
For the first time in recent memory, the Irish received votes in the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA)/Bridgestone Coaches’ Poll, earning three votes in the April 8 balloting and two votes in the April 22 survey.

One of the reasons for the Irish ascension into the poll was Notre Dame’s success at the Augusta State Invitational last month. In that event, the Irish placed seventh and outshot five ranked teams, including then-No. 8 Wake Forest (by a staggering 29 strokes) and 10th-ranked Southern California.

A Record-Setting Mark
Junior Mark Baldwin (Laconia, N.H./New Hampton Prep) set a new school and Warren Golf Course record on April 9, carding a seven-under par 63 in the first round of a 36-hole dual match against No. 11 TCU. Baldwin broke the nearly 42-year-old Irish single-round mark of 64, set by Mike O’Connell on May 4, 1963, in a quadrangular match against Northwestern, Ball State and Bellarmine (Ky.) College at Notre Dame’s old Burke Memorial Golf Course.

Baldwin also topped the previous Warren Golf Course record of 66 (-4), established by Indiana’s Jeff Overton on Sept. 19, 2004 in the final round of the Notre Dame Invitational/Central Regional Preview. PGA and Champions Tour veteran Jerry Pate (the 1976 U.S. Open champion and PGA Tour Co-Player of the Year) actually shot an eight-under par 62 (30-32) at the par-70 Warren Golf Course on July 28, 2001.

However, that round took place from the regulation men’s tees (6,744 yards) before numerous renovations were made to the course, including the completion of the championship-length tees (7,011 yards) that Baldwin played from.

Baldwin registered an eagle and two birdies on the front nine and went out in 31 (-4), before coming home with a 32 on the back nine (four birdies, one bogey). He actually had an opportunity to push his score even lower, three-putting for a bogey on No. 16, before rebounding with consecutive birdies to close out his historic round.

Last Tournament – BIG EAST Championship
For the second consecutive year, and the fifth time overall, Notre Dame won the BIG EAST Conference Championship, repeating as tournament champions on April 24 after a rare April snowstorm dropped two inches of snow on the Warren Golf Course and resulted in the cancellation of the final two rounds of play.

The Irish wound up defending their BIG EAST title by five shots over Georgetown, rallying from as many as seven shots down at the turn to card a 31-over par 311 in Saturday’s first (and only) round that was played in gusty winds with occasional snow showers. The Hoyas finished second at 316 (+36), posting their best conference finish since winning the crown in 1998. Rutgers (318, +38) came in third for its highest result since a similar third-place showing in 2001.

Junior Mark Baldwin (Laconia, N.H./New Hampton Prep) wound up as the tournament medalist with a five-over par 75 in Saturday’s round, becoming the fourth Notre Dame golfer ever to win the BIG EAST individual title (Bill Moore – 1995; Todd Vernon – 1997; Steve Ratay – 2001). It’s also the second medalist citation of Baldwin’s career – he took top honors in a home dual match with No. 11 TCU back on April 9 after carding a three-under par 137 that included a course and school-record 63 in the first round.

Baldwin also was one of three Irish players to earn a spot on the all-BIG EAST team, having made the squad for the second time in his career after an initial appearance in 2003. Junior Eric Deutsch (Rochester, Minn./Lourdes HS) shot a seven-over par 77 to tie for third place, the best finish of his career, and found his way back on the all-BIG EAST team for the second consecutive year. Likewise, sophomore Cole Isban (South Bend, Ind./Mishawaka Marian HS) was an all-league pick for the second year in a row after tying for seventh place at nine-over par 79.

Freshman Mike King (Sidney, Ohio/Sidney HS) turned his third top-10 finish of the season, tying for ninth place at 10-over par 80. Meanwhile, junior Scott Gustafson (Eden Prairie, Minn./Eden Prairie HS) ended up in a 21st-place tie at 14-over par 84.

Next Up For The Irish
With a top-10 finish at this week’s NCAA Central Regional, Notre Dame would earn a spot in the 2005 NCAA Championships, to be hosted by Loyola (Md.) College on June 1-4 at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. (located just outside of Baltimore).

Should the Irish advance to the NCAA Championships, it would mark their 31st appearance in the national finals and first since 1966, when they placed 11th at the Stanford Golf Course in Stanford, Calif. Notre Dame has won one national championship in men’s golf (1944), has placed second once (1937) and has finished among the top five at the NCAA Championships on 10 occasions (most recently in 1964, when it placed fourth).