Junior Doug Fortner finished one shot off the school record, firing a six-under par 210 to tie for second place at the 2009 BIG EAST Conference Championship, which wrapped up Tuesday at the Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in Dade City, Fla.

Irish Tee Off Spring Season With Caribbean Getaway

March 8, 2009

Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate
Monday-Wednesday, March 9-11, 2009
Palmas del Mar Golf Club/Flamboyán Course
Humacao, P.R.
Par 70/6,770 yards

The Starting Lineup

Player                  Ht/Wt     Year       Hometown               Avg.1 - Doug Fortner    6-0/170   Junior     Tustin, Calif.     74.602 - Connor Alan-Lee   6-0/165   Sophomore  Solana Beach, Calif.   74.933 - Dustin Zhang    5-9/150   Sophomore  Calgary, Alberta       76.784 - Max Scodro          5-10/165  Freshman   Chicago, Ill.          73.835 - Jeff Chen           5-11/165  Sophomore  Walnut, Calif.         74.006 - Chris Walker (ind.) 6-1/140   Freshman   The Woodlands, Texas   78.22

Irish Tee Off Spring Season With Caribbean Getaway
Notre Dame has been fortunate to visit some of the more impressive locales in golf and this week will be no exception, as the Irish travel to Humacao, Puerto Rico, for the third annual Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate, hosted by Notre Dame’s fellow BIG EAST Conference member, St. John’s. Already this season, the Irish have competed at San Francisco’s famed Olympic Club, the storied Poppy Hills Golf Course at Pebble Beach and the renowned Greg Norman Course at California’s PGA WEST facility, not to mention hosting the third annual Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic on their own award-winning Warren Golf Course.

Notre Dame is hoping to build upon a solid finish to the fall season, after a season-high tie for seventh place (890, +26) at the 14-team UNCG Bridgestone Collegiate Championship in Greensboro, N.C. The Irish also got a taste of what may lie ahead when freshman Max Scodro carded a three-under par 213 to become the first Notre Dame rookie to earn medalist honors in 18 years and the third in the 80-year history of the program. The Irish closed out the fall with a 297.33 team stroke average and finished in the top 10 in four of their five tournaments, having also taken seventh-place honors at the Saint Mary’s (Calif.) Invitational.

With the loss of senior co-captain Josh Sandman for the season following back surgery (he will return for a fifth year of eligbility in 2009-10), Notre Dame will field a young lineup with three sophomores joining Scodro in this week’s starting five. Junior all-BIG EAST selection Doug Fortner (74.60 stroke average) anchors the Irish from the top spot, while sophomore Connor Alan-Lee (74.93), who started all five tournaments in the fall, holds down the No. 2 position. His classmate, Dustin Zhang (76.78), returns to the lineup after sharing team-high honors at the Prestige at PGA WEST (t-35th, 228, +12), while Scodro has a team-best 73.83 stroke average and has shot 73 or better in seven of his 12 rounds thus far. Sophomore Jeff Chen (74.00) completes the Irish lineup, while freshman Chris Walker (78.22) also will make the trip and take part in this week’s tournament as an individual participant.

Quoting Coach Kubinski…
“It’s exciting to be heading out to kick off our Spring campaign. We ended the Fall season on a positive note. I saw things from a few of our young players that I hadn’t seen from them as college players. While the layoff is always lengthy, from semester to semester, I think we’ll find our stride in the coming couple of events and build on what we’ve started.

“This is our first trip to Puerto Rico, so we’re looking forward to the event a great deal. It’s a smaller field (10 teams) but about as perfect a place to play golf in March as any in college golf.

“The players in our starting lineup all played multiple events in the Fall. Junior Doug Fortner will lead the way. Doug has worked harder these last few months than at any time in his young career. He looks very solid through the bag. If preparation builds confidence, he should be very confident.

“We’ll have three talented sophomores as the core of our lineup. Connor (Alan-Lee), Dustin (Zhang) and Jeff (Chen) are all very capable players. The key for them will be to tee it up with confidence and focus on competing. They figured out last semester that they not only belong but that they can be successful. I’m looking forward to watching their progress. They’re all capable of winning events.

“Of course, our starting frosh, Max Scodro, earned a first-place finish at the UNCG Bridgestone to close out our Fall and wants to build on his great finish there. I thought Max played very, very well for us at Poppy Hills in September, so winning at Forest Oaks wasn’t a surprise to me. Max is strong through the bag, stays loose out there and just enjoys playing. I expect continued good play from him.”

Dates and Times
Teams will play single rounds (18 holes) each day from Monday through Wednesday. Additional information on tee times and pairings was not available at press time.

Following The Irish
Complete results following each day’s action at the Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate will be posted on the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.UND.com). The latest information from the tournament, including results, scheduling updates and weather delays, also will be provided on the Notre Dame Sports Hotline (574-631-3000). Furthermore, results also will be available via the Irish ALERT text-message system, which provides fans with regular updates on Notre Dame’s progress at Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate through text messages sent to their cell phone. For more information, visit UND.com.

The Tournament Format
A total of 10 five-man teams (50 participants, plus additional golfers, such as Notre Dame’s Chris Walker, who are competing on an individual basis) will be taking part in Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate. 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. Scores by golfers competing on an individual basis do not count to the team score.

The Teams
Besides tournament host St. John’s, as well as Notre Dame, the remaining teams in the field for Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate are: Bowling Green, George Mason, Johnson & Wales (NAIA Division I school), UNC Greensboro, Old Dominion, Santa Clara, St. Thomas Aquinas (NCAA Division II school) and Virginia Commonwealth.

According to the March 3 ratings in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, VCU is the highest-ranked team in this week’s field, checking in at No. 66. Notre Dame, which is ranked 91st in the latest Golfweek survey, is the only other top-100 school in the tournament.

In addition, the March 4 Golfstat rankings have pegged VCU at No. 69, the highest of any team headed to Puerto Rico this week. The Irish are rated 90th in the latest Golfstat report, the only other top-100 NCAA Division I team in the field. Johnson & Wales is 16th in the newes Golfstat NAIA Division I rankings.

Through the fall 2008 season, Notre Dame has faced three of the other teams it will see in this week’s Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate, going 2-3 against UNC Greensboro (0-2), Santa Clara (2-0) and VCU (0-1). The Irish fell to both UNCG and VCU at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic (VCU by 19 shots, UNCG by three shots) and also were shaded by UNCG at its Bridgestone Collegiate Championship (two strokes). Notre Dame did pick up a pair of wins over Santa Clara during the fall, taking an 11-shot measure at the season-opening USF Olympic Club Intercollegiate and ending six shots clear of the Broncos at the Saint Mary’s (Calif.) Invitational, both back in September.

The Course
This newest addition to the Palmas del Mar Golf Club, the Flamboyán Course features not only great golf, but also breathtaking views of the sea and lush tropical landscaping. The course (which will play at 6,770 yards this week) opened in 1999 and was designed by renowned course designer Rees Jones. Flamboyán is consistently ranked among the best courses to play not only on the island of Puerto Rico, but throughout all of the Caribbean islands. The course has plenty of obstacles, including a lake, Candelero River crossing, moundings, and deep bunkers — making it a fun challenge for all. As with the other Palmas del Mar course (the “Palm”), the Flamboyán is anchored by the luxurious clubhouse, which is a great place to grab a meal and relax after a round.

Last Time Out: UNCG Bridgestone Collegiate Championship
Freshman Max Scodro closed out his first fall season at the college level in grand style, carding a career-low three-under par 213 (70-72-71) to tie for medalist honors at the UNCG Bridgestone Collegiate Championship, which concluded Oct. 28 at the Forest Oaks Country Club (par 72/7,197 yards) in Greensboro, N.C. Scodro is the first Irish rookie in 18 years to win an individual tournament championship, and just the third in the 80-year history of the Notre Dame men’s golf program. He’s also the first Irish freshman ever to win a 54-hole tournament title (John Lundgren and Brennan Murphy won 18-hole events in 1976 and 1990, respectively).

Scodro is the first Irish medalist of any class since Eddie Peckels tied for top honors at the 36-hole Irish Invitational last spring. Cole Isban was the last Notre Dame golfer to finish atop the leaderboard at a 54-hole tournament, tying for first at the 2005 Shoal Creek Intercollegiate before being eliminated on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Due to travel considerations, tournament officials at the UNCG Bridgestone Collegiate Championship elected to forgo an individual playoff between Scodro and Michigan State’s Payne Gniewek and designated them co-medalists.

As a team, the Irish tied for seventh at their final tournament of the fall 2008 season, firing a 26-over par 890 (297-292-301) to join Eastern Michigan in finishing 21 shots back of tournament champion Duke, but just two strokes out of a top-five placement. The seventh-place tie also matches the best finish of the year for Notre Dame, who shot a season-low 869 en route to their seventh-place outing at last month’s Saint Mary’s Invitational in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Composure and resiliency marked Scodro’s final round, as the Irish freshman looked more like a wily veteran than a first-year player. Starting on the back side of the course, Scodro opened with a birdie, but fell back to even par after bracketing another birdie with bogeys on holes 3 and 5. Yet, the highlight of his round was just around the corner on his sixth hole (No. 15 on the course), when he carded an eagle-3 on the par-5, 552-yard layout, the only eagle of the day on that hole and one of two for the entire tournament.

Scodro then traded another birdie on his eighth hole with a bogey on the ninth, making the turn in two-under 34, before his consistency kicked in with eight consecutive pars. Playing on opposite sides of the course, Scodro and Gniewek (the 36-hole co-leader) waged an impressive duel for the lead down the stretch before Gniewek seemingly blinked with a bogey on No. 17 that dropped him back to three-under par. However, Scodro wasn’t able to capitalize on the miscue, taking a bogey of his own on No. 18 (No. 9 on the course) to end up tied with Gniewek. The other overnight leader, Michigan’s Bill Rankin, had a chance to make it a three-way tie atop the leaderboard, but he also bogeyed his final hole to finish alone in third place, one shot back.

Sophomore Connor Alan-Lee capped another solid tournament, tying for 24th place at six-over par 222 (72-74-76). Junior Doug Fortner continued his recovery from a tough first round, rising up to a 43rd-place tie at 11-over par 227 (82-72-73). Junior co-captain Olavo Batista wound up tied for 54th place in his debut with the Irish travel squad, firing a 15-over par 231 (76-74-81), while freshman Chris Walker, also making his first-ever start for Notre Dame, finished in a 65th-place deadlock at 20-over par 236 (79-76-81).

Captains Courageous
Senior Josh Sandman (out for the year following off-season back surgery) and junior Olavo Batista are serving as Notre Dame’s team captains for the 2008-09 season. It’s the first time either man has been chosen to fill that role.

The .500 Rule
According to a rule passed by the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Committee prior to the 2007-08 season, teams must finish with a winning head-to-head record (i.e. better than .500) in order to be considered for a berth in postseason play. Notre Dame currently owns a 25-43-1 (.370) record against Division I opponents this season.

Things You Should Know About The Irish

  • Notre Dame has won six BIG EAST Conference titles in its 13-year league affiliation, stringing together three consecutive crowns from 1995-97 and again from 2004-06. The Irish also have made 33 NCAA postseason appearances in their history (most recently in 2006 with a trip to the NCAA East Regional), winning the 1944 national title and finishing second in 1937.
  • Notre Dame has taken its play to new levels in recent years, posting the three single-season stroke averages in school history since head coach Jim Kubinski took over as head coach in January 2005. The Irish also have carded 11 of the top 15 tournament scores (54 holes) in program history during the Kubinski era, including a school-record 842 (-22) at the 2006 BIG EAST Championship.
  • Notre Dame’s impressive resurgence of late has been augmented by its play against nationally-ranked opponents. In fact, since Kubinski arrived under the Golden Dome, the Irish have defeated 15 Top 25 teams (according to Golfweek) and posted 16 top-five tournament finishes, including three event titles (most recently the `06 BIG EAST Championship).
  • Kubinski himself was nominated for a place on the 2007 GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teachers List, after being placed into consideration by the Indiana Section of the PGA. Approximately 400-500 people are chosen annually from the 30,000 PGA professionals nationwide for a few select places on the GOLF Magazine list, whose membership includes such notables as Hank Haney, Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter and Rick Smith.

Next Up: Border Olympics (March 13-14)
Notre Dame wraps up its two-tournament Spring Break trip Friday and Saturday at the Border Olympics in Laredo, Texas. The Irish will be making their third appearance at the tournament in seven years, most recently placing sixth in the 2007 event at one-over par 865. The tournament is hosted by the University of Houston at the Laredo Country Club and will feature a strong field that includes Arkansas, Baylor, Lamar and Louisville.

— ND —