April 30, 2000
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Seton Hall junior Eugene Smith entered the 2000 BIG EAST Men’s Golf Championship as one of three players that were featured on the front cover of the tournament program-alongside the event’s previous two medalists.
By the time Sunday’s second and final round of play was completed at Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course, Smith had joined those players-Notre Dame’s Todd Vernon and Georgetown’s Andreas Huber-as a BIG EAST individual champion while leading the Pirates to the team title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The host team Notre Dame-which entered the day 14 strokes behind Seton Hall and in fourth place overall-was able to match the Pirates in the second round with a score of 290 in the play-five, count-four format. But the Irish still ended up in third place with a two-round total of 594, three strokes behind surprising Rutgers in the final standings.
The weekend capped a frustrating spring for the Irish, who surged into the national top 25 after a highly-successful 1999 fall season that kindled hopes for the program’s first trip to the NCAAs since 1966. The Irish averaged just 292 strokes per round in the fall but saw that number rise to 303 in the spring action, with the team’s overall 1999-2000 average (298.29) nonetheless finishing as the best in Notre Dame history (narrowly besting the 298.33 posted in ’97-’98).
Smith-who entered the weekend with an impressive 73.13 season stroke average-received his biggest challenge for the individual title from an unexpected source, in the form of diminutive Rutgers sophomore Daniel Lee. While Smith was navigating the course in the final threesome, Lee was carving up the layout two groups in front of him. Lee holed three bunker shots and totaled seven birdies, en route to a round of 66 that broke the BIG EAST Championship record by three strokes.
Smith, a seventh-place finisher at the ’98-’99 BIG EAST Championship, had a two-stroke cushion on Lee when he teed off at 18 before two-putting for a round of one-over 72 and a two-round total of 141-matching the tournament record set by Vernon and Huber in their medalist efforts.
“I knew I had some breathing room going into the final hole, but what Daniel did out there today was unbelievable,” said Smith, who opened the day with seven straight pars before posting birdies on holes 8, 10, 13, 15 and 17. “I made a lot of good up-and-downs today but wasn’t hitting the ball as well as yesterday.
“Obviously, I loved playing on this course and it’s the perfect type of facility for a college golf tournament. Once the course has time to mature, it’s going to be even better.”
Sparked by Lee’s charge Rutgers tied the tournament record by posting a team score of 289 in the final round-good enough for a three-stroke advantage over Notre Dame, which teed off in the middle group of teams and finished prior to the last group of threesomes. Junior Shawn Hughes posted a 73 to help RU’s cause while his classmates Ryan MacDonald and Daniel Horner each carded 75s for the record-tying team score.
Notre Dame sophomore Steve Ratay-who entered the day alone in second place and just one shot back of Smith, after a one-under 70 on Saturday-faded from contention before finishing with a round of 77-marking just the second time in 28 rounds that he did not count to the Irish score during 1999-2000.
Irish junior Alex Kent bounced back from an opening-round 77 by closing with a 68-placing him in a tie for fifth in the 45-player field. Kent, a native of Asuncion, Paraguay, was named to the second annual BIG EAST all-conference team (as awarded to the top eight finishes), duplicating the effort of his older brother Willie at the 1998-99 event (a runner-up performance at TPC Avenel in Bethesda, Md.).
Seton Hall-which will be making its third straight appearance in the NCAAs-completed an impressive march to the title, thanks in large part to a final-round 71 from sophomore Brian McGowan and the same score from senior Scott Hawley, SHU’s No. 2 golfer who had stumbled on Saturday en route to a 78.
First-year Seton Hall coach Clark Holle-who was named the BIG EAST coach of the year during the tournament’s awards ceremony-had praise for the performance turned in by all of the SHU players.
“You can’t help but be proud of how these kids performed this weekend. We had shown signs of building throughout the years but could never put the rounds together. But this was as focused as I have seen us this year. We really had to fight through some things, but we did it,” said Holle, who likewise heaped praise on the tournament’s organizers for “making these teams feel like we were the only show in town.”
Players that joined Smith, Lee and Kent on the all-conference team included: SHU’s McGowan (144), Andrew Svoboda of St. John’s (74-70/144), Georgetown’s Tristan Lewis (72-73/145), Villanova’s Dugan Condon (77-69/146) and SJU’s Andrew McKay (73-73/146).
Sunday’s action served as a bittersweet end to the careers of Notre Dame seniors Todd Vernon (71-149) and Jeff Connell (75-154)-who have combined to play in 196 career rounds while ranking sixth and seventh on the Irish career stroke average list (Vernon at 75.41, Connell at 75.85). Vernon’s career mark is the second-best by an Irish golfer since 1970 (trailing only Willie Kent’s 74.55) and best by any Irish player with 50-plus career rounds. The Irish captain closed 1999-2000 with a 74.18 season stroke average that ranks third in Notre Dame history, behind the 1955-56 duo of Joe Grace (73.13) and Charles Thurn (73.88).
NOTES: Junior Adam Anderson shot a final-round 76 to round out ND’s second-round total … Vernon counted to the ND team score in 93 of his 105 career rounds, including 27 of 28 in 1999-2000 … other final 1999-2000 averages included Ratay (74.54), Connell (75.56), Kent (75.32) and Anderson (77.32) … Connell counted in 78 of 91 career rounds (24 of 27 in 1999-2000) … other final rounds-counted totals for 1999-2000 included Ratay (26 of 28), Kent (21 of 28) and Anderson (15 of 25) … Ratay will head into his junior season with a 75.98 career stroke average … the finish was ND’s lowest in five BIG EAST Championship appearances, after winning the first three titles and tying for second last season … Kent’s 68 marked just the 11th time in Notre Dame history that an Irish player has shot 68 or better in intercollegiate competition (and just the sixth time since 1978) … Kent’s final round included birdies on 4, 5, 11, 15 and 17 …
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: ND ranked fifth in the nine-team field on the par-3 holes (+14, with Rutgers posting a tournament-best +8) but played the par-4s at +30 (2nd-best, behind SHU’s +28) and the par-5s at -3 (second to SHU’s -7) … Rutgers and Villanova led the field with 26 birdies each (ND was fourth, with 22) … the Irish totaled 107 pars, second to SHU’s 108 … Lee led the field on the par-3 holes (-3), followed by Kent at -1 … Lewis (even) was the top performer on the par-4s, with Smith, Svoboda and Lee checking in at +2 … Condon led the tournament in par-five scoring (-5, Smith was next at -3) and in birdies (12, followed by Lee with nine) … Hawley led the field by parring 26 of his 36 holes … the tournament action allowed the course officials to get a sense of how different holes will hold up in a competitive setting-here’s an overview:
|1:||par 4, 372 yards||4.47 average score||6 birdies, 26 bogeys|
|2:||par 4, 462 yards||4.49 average score||3 birdie, 39 bogeys|
|3:||par 4, 393 yards||4.40 average score||4 birdies, 25 bogeys|
|4:||par 3, 143 yards||3.22 average score||16 birdies, 22 bogeys|
|5:||par 5, 518 yards||4.78 average score||27 birdies, 9 bogeys|
|6:||par 4, 436 yards||4.53 average score||7 birdies, 31 bogeys|
|7:||par 4, 398 yards||4.36 average score||10 birdies, 29 bogeys|
|8:||par 4, 414 yards||4.58 average score||5 birdies, 28 bogeys|
|9:||par 3, 185 yards||3.31 average score||5 birdies, 27 bogeys|
|10:||par 5, 495 yards||5.20 average score||23 birdies, 15 bogeys|
|11:||par 3, 216 yards||3.56 average score||3 birdie, 44 bogeys|
|12:||par 4, 443 yards||4.56 average score||6 birdies, 31 bogeys|
|13:||par 4, 433 yards||4.33 average score||11 birdies, 24 bogeys|
|14:||par 3, 197 yards||3.38 average score||4 birdie, 31 bogeys|
|15:||par 4, 380 yards||4.42 average score||11 birdies, 29 bogeys|
|16:||par 4, 345 yards||4.33 average score||9 birdies, 21 bogeys|
|17:||par 5, 480 yards||4.93 average score||19 birdies, 23 bogeys|
|18:||par 4, 434 yards||4.64 average score||6 birdies, 23 bogeys|
The toughest holes in relation to par proved to be 18 (+0.64), 11 (+0.56), 6 (+0.53) and 8 (+0.58) while two of the three par-5s were played under par: the 5th (-.22) and the 17th (-0.07) … the other “easiest” holes included the par-five 10th (+0.20) and 4 (+0.22) … holes that produced the fewest birdies: 2 (3), 11 (3), 3 (4) and 14 (4) … the field racked up 44 bogeys on the 11th hole … the averaged score improved from 77.71 on Saturday to 77.47 on Sunday, with the biggest jump coming on holes 17 (0.51) and 3 (0.27) while average scores went up on the most on 8 and 15 (both 0.22).