May 1, 2006
Fresh off a third consecutive BIG EAST Conference title that included one of the most remarkable comebacks in the 77-year history of the program, the Notre Dame men’s golf team added another feather in its collective cap on Monday when it was chosen as the Golfweek National Team of the Week. It’s the first time the Irish have ever been selected for the honor, which is voted upon each week during the season by the writers and editors at Golfweek magazine (and its web site) who cover collegiate golf on a regular basis. Notre Dame was tapped for this week’s national honor ahead of such other notable teams as fifth-ranked UCLA (the Pac-10 Conference champion) and Oklahoma (the Big 12 Conference champion), both of whom earned a place on the Golfweek weekly honor roll.
At this year’s BIG EAST Championships, which ended on April 25 in Dade City, Fla., the Irish battled from 12 strokes back on the final day to force a sudden-death playoff with Louisville, which Notre Dame won on the first extra hole. The 12-shot comeback is the second-largest rally on record in the program’s history since the Irish began regularly playing in tournaments (instead of match play) in 1968-69. The only larger deficit recovery for Notre Dame came at the 1995 BIG EAST Championship, when the Irish climbed out of a 13-shot hole to defeat Connecticut in what was then both a fall tournament and a 36-hole event.
Notre Dame also set a handful of records during its BIG EAST comeback. The Irish final-round score of 272 (-16) and their 54-hole total of 842 (-22) both set new BIG EAST Championship and school records, with the 272 standing as the third-lowest closing score by any team in any conference tournament this year (top-ranked Georgia and No. 3 Florida shot 269 in the final round of the Southeastern Conference Championship). The 12-shot rally is the largest by any conference champion this year, and the 842 score is tied for the fourth-lowest at a par-72 championship this year (North Carolina and Georgia Tech shot 833 and Clemson fired an 840, all at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament).
In addition, the conference title continues an impressive start to the tenure of head coach Jim Kubinski. Since arriving on the Notre Dame campus in January 2005, the Irish mentor has guided his charges to nine top-five finishes in 17 events, including three championships (two in playoffs), and 11 wins over opponents ranked in the Golfweek Top 25. Notre Dame also has claimed the last two BIG EAST titles under his watch and will be making its second consecutive NCAA regional appearance later this month. This season, the Irish have compiled a 293.23 stroke average, which would shatter the school’s single-season record of 298.29 (1999-2000) by more than five strokes. What’s more, Notre Dame has posted four of the top 10 single-round scores in school history and has six wins over ranked opponents in 2005-06, not to mention victories over five other conference champions (Georgia Southern – Southern; North Carolina – ACC (tie); Northwestern – Big Ten; SMU – Conference USA; Wichita State – Missouri Valley).
With their win at the BIG EAST tourney, the Irish became the second team in conference history to win three consecutive championships on two separate occasions, adding wins from 1995-97 with their current string, and joining St. John’s (1981-84 and 1986-89) in that elite club. Notre Dame now has won six BIG EAST titles in its 11-year league membership, and nine conference championships overall when including three crowns won during the program’s Midwestern Collegiate Conference days (1983-95).
Notre Dame will learn its postseason destination when the three 27-team regional fields are announced May 8. The Irish likely will be sent to the NCAA Central Regional, to be played May 18-20 at Sand Ridge Golf Club in Chardon, Ohio, although it is possible they could be sent to either the East (Orlando, Fla.) or West (Tucson, Ariz.) Regionals. Regardless of the site, Notre Dame will make its 33rd NCAA postseason appearance and is aiming to reach the NCAA finals for the first time since 1966. The Irish have come agonizingly close to advancement each of the past two years, falling short of the 10-team cutoff by four strokes in 2004 and two strokes in 2005.
Prior to NCAA regional competition, Notre Dame will take part in one final regular-season event May 13-14 when it travels to Ardmore, Okla., for The Maxwell, to be played at the Dornick Hills Country Club. The Irish will make their first-ever appearance in the prestigious event, which is co-hosted by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and is considered a prime tune-up for the postseason.
— ND —