March 19, 2009
Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational
Friday-Sunday, March 20-22, 2009
Forest Heights Country Club
Par 72/6,962 yards
The Starting Lineup
Player Ht/Wt Year Hometown Stroke Avg.1 - Doug Fortner 6-0/170 Junior Tustin, Calif. 74.192 - Connor Alan-Lee 6-0/165 Sophomore Solana Beach, Calif. 75.143 - Dustin Zhang 5-9/150 Sophomore Calgary, Alberta 76.074 - Max Scodro 5-10/165 Freshman Chicago, Ill. 74.335 - Jeff Chen 5-11/165 Sophomore Walnut, Calif. 73.93
Opportunity Knocks For Irish At Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational
Following a pair of strong performances to open the spring season, Notre Dame has a chance to add some sparkle to its postseason resume when it travels to Statesboro, Ga., this weekend for the high-powered Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational, to be hosted by Georgia Southern University at the Forest Heights Country Club. To say there will be strength from top to bottom among the 18-team field would be an understatement, with no less than 10 of the top 50 clubs (and six Top 25 teams) in the current Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index ratings set to compete in Statesboro.
The Irish collected their second consecutive top-five finish in as many spring tournaments last weekend with a fifth-place outing at the Border Olympics in Laredo, Texas. Notre Dame carded a 27-over par 891 (303-289-299) to finish ahead of several strong programs, including BIG EAST Conference rival Louisville and Southeastern Conference stalwart Vanderbilt, while challenging nationally-ranked Arkansas, Lamar and Texas-Arlington, and winding up within seven shots of all three of those teams.
The past two tournaments have helped the Irish register a 296.52 stroke average this season, with six top-10 finishes (and those two top-five outings) in seven events to date. 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 has had to adjust to a younger lineup (one freshman, three sophomores, one junior), but if the last two weeks are any indication, that quintet appears to have bonded well and could be poised for even greater things as the spring season progresses.
Sophomore Jeff Chen has taken over the team lead with a 73.93 stroke average in five tournaments, and he’s coming off his two best finishes of the season with consecutive top-15 placements (15th at Palmas del Mar, 11th at the Border Olympics). Junior all-BIG EAST selection Doug Fortner (74.19) and sophomore Connor Alan-Lee (75.14) have started all seven tournaments thus far, with Fortner earning his fourth career top-five finish with a season-best fourth-place tie at Palmas del Mar. Meanwhile, Alan-Lee carded a career-low 220 (+4) at Palmas del Mar en route to a season-best tie for 11th place.
Freshman Max Scodro (74.33) has shown flashes of incredible potential this season, highlighted by his run to medalist honors (213, -3) at the UNCG Bridgestone Collegiate Championship, becoming just the third Irish freshman to win a tournament in the 80-year history of the Irish program. Sophomore Dustin Zhang (76.07) also is coming along nicely, having finished in the top 35 in four of his five events this year, including a tie for 26th place in each of his two spring tournaments.
Quoting Coach Kubinski…
“We’ll have our same lineup in place this week. Our guys are starting to believe in their abilities, which is always a big factor for young teams. We’ll try to continue to get better, as has been our goal all along and build on our spring break momentum. This is a fun group to be around. I’ve never doubted our physical talent, even after a rough start last fall. What has been exciting, though, is our growth on the mental side of the game. It’s not simply course management. It’s our growing confidence, our ability to commit to shots and the great strides we’ve made in terms of emotional maturity. We’re not where we will be in time, but we’re really starting to get it. These are talented young players. Whether we win or finish well back in any particular event is not what we’re concerned with at this point. We’re focused on becoming the best we can be. This week’s event is another stepping stone.
“The Schenkel is a great, great event. It’s one of the oldest in college golf for a reason. It’s played on a testing but fun golf course. The hole locations require thought and discipline. Of course, the field is also one of the strongest. When you consider the golf course, the field and the tremendous hospitality and community support, the Schenkel is definitely a highlight event for us. We’re looking to continue our growth and be a factor over the weekend.”
Dates and Times
Teams will play single rounds (18 holes) each day from Friday through Sunday. Notre Dame will tee off on the back nine for Friday’s opening round, beginning at 8:51 a.m. (ET) and continuing at nine-minute intervals. The Irish then will begin Saturday’s second round on the front side, teeing off from No. 1 beginning at 10:30 a.m. (ET). Sunday’s final round tee times will be assigned based on the 36-hole tournament standings. All times and formats are tentative and subject to change.
Following The Irish
Live scoring for this weekend’s Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational will be offered through the Golfstat web site (www.golfstat.com). Complete results following each day of action 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 the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational through text messages sent to their cell phone. For more information, visit UND.com.
The Tournament Format
A total of 18 five-man teams (90 participants, plus six additional golfers who would be competing on an individual basis) will be taking part in the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational. 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.
Besides tournament host Georgia Southern, as well as Notre Dame, the remaining teams in the field for the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational are: Auburn, Augusta State, Florida, Georgia State, Iowa, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Carolina State, North Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
According to the March 11 edition of the Golf World/Nike Golf Top 25 coaches’ poll, five teams in this week’s tournament are ranked and another four are receiving votes. Seventh-ranked Florida leads the group of ranked teams, followed by No. 14 South Carolina, 16th-ranked Tennessee, No. 21 LSU and 24th-ranked North Carolina State. The quartet earning votes in the latest coaches’ balloting includes: Mississippi (13 votes; 33rd if the poll were extended), Auburn (six votes, 38th), Augusta State (two votes, tied for 42nd) and Georgia State (one vote, tied for 44th).
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s newest ratings in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index show that 20 percent (10) of the top 50 teams in the nation will be on hand for the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational. Leading the way is fifth-ranked Florida, with No. 12 South Carolina, No. 20 LSU, 21st-ranked Tennessee, No. 24 North Carolina State and No. 25 Mississippi also appearing in the top half of the rankings. The other teams on the first page of the Golfweek Index include No. 39 Augusta State, 42nd-ranked Georgia State, No. 47 Vanderbilt and 50th-ranked Georgia Southern. What’s more, three other tournament participants are knocking on the door of the Golfweek Top 50 — Virginia (51st), Kentucky (53rd) and Auburn (54th).
In addition, Wednesday’s updated Golfstat rankings indicate 10 of this week’s participants are appearing in that service’s Top 50. No. 9 Florida is the pace-setter for the tournament field, while 14th-ranked North Carolina State, No. 15 Tennessee, 16th-ranked South Carolina, No. 18 LSU and No. 21 Mississippi reside in the upper division on the current rankings. Also are on the first page of the Golfstat board are No. 43 Augusta State, No. 45 Georgia State, 49th-ranked Iowa and 50th-ranked Virginia. Three other teams are within striking distance of the Golfstat Top 50 — Georgia State (54th), Vanderbilt (55th) and Auburn (57th).
So far this season, Notre Dame has faced five of the other teams it will see in this week’s Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational, going 2-3 against Iowa (0-1), Kentucky (1-0), North Florida (0-1), Vanderbilt (1-0) and Virginia (0-1). The Irish got their win over Kentucky (by nine shots) at the Prestige at PGA WEST back in October, while Notre Dame finished 11 strokes ahead of Vanderbilt at last week’s Border Olympics. All three losses came at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic, where Virginia was 31 shots ahead of Notre Dame, Iowa was 19 strokes clear and North Florida wound up three strokes in front.
Recognized as one of the finest courses in the Southeast, the Forest Heights Country Club is located in Statesboro, Ga., and has played host to the Southern Conference tournament, the Georgia State Golf Association Four-Ball Tournament and the Southeastern Amateur, as well as the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational. Forest Heights opened in 1947 and was designed by George W. Cobb. It features wide, tree-lined fairways that allow for forgiveness off the tee, but the real challenge of this course lies on its undulating greens. Water also will come into play on a handful of holes, especially on the back nine.
Notre Dame will be playing in the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational for the second consecutive year. In 2008, the Irish finished tied for 12th in the 18-team field after carding a 24-over par 888 (297-294-297) at Forest Heights. Current senior co-captain Josh Sandman posted a team-best sixth-place tie at last year’s Schenkel, shooting a four-under par 212 (73-71-68). Among the Irish players in this week’s lineup, junior Doug Fortner and sophomore Connor Alan-Lee have experience at this tournament — Fortner tied for 56th place last year (224, +8), while Alan-Lee tied for 92nd place (234, +18).
Last Time Out: Border Olympics
Notre Dame capped off an impressive week-long spring break trip with its second consecutive top-five finish, placing fifth at the Border Olympics which concluded on March 14 at the Laredo Country Club (par 72/7,241 yards) in Laredo, Texas. The Irish, who took runner-up honors at the Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate in Puerto Rico three days earlier, covered more than 4,000 miles during the spring break junket, and returned home with back-to-back top-five tournament finishes for the fourth time in the five-year tenure of head coach Jim Kubinski and the first since the final two events of last season (second at the Irish Invitational, fourth at the BIG EAST Conference Championship).
Notre Dame shot a final-round 299 (+11) and carded a 54-hole score of 27-over par 891 (303-289-299), winding up 14 strokes back of tournament champion Baylor at the 16-team Border Olympics. No. 17 Arkansas (884) was second, while Lamar (886) and Texas-Arlington (888) rounded out the top five. The Irish did finish ahead of several other strong programs, including BIG EAST rival Louisville (tied for eighth at 896) and Vanderbilt (tied for 10th at 902). Notre Dame also logged its best finish in four visits to the Border Olympics, one of the premier stops on the college golf circuit.
Sophomore Jeff Chen punctuated his second consecutive strong tournament outing, shooting a final-round 72 (E) to tie for 11th place in the 88-man field at five-over par 221 (77-72-72). Chen has posted his two best finishes of the season in the past two events, sharing 15th place earlier in the week at Palmas del Mar.
Junior Doug Fortner and sophomore Dustin Zhang were part of a group that tied for 26th place at eight-over par 224. Fortner shot rounds of 75-72-77, while Zhang carded scores of 76-73-75 to match his best finish of the season (a placement he’s now achieved in three of his five tournaments this year).
Freshman Max Scodro tied for 42nd place at 12-over par 228 (75-78-75), while sophomore Connor Alan-Lee ended the tournament in a 64th-place tie at 18-over par 234 (81-72-81). Freshman Chris Walker competed as an individual participant, winding up in a tie for 77th place at 21-over par 237 (76-83-78).
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 42-48-1 (.467) 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 18 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: Spring Break Championship (March 27-29)
Notre Dame returns to the Southeast next weekend for its first-ever appearance at the Spring Break Championship, to be hosted by Florida Atlantic at the Gleneagles Golf Club in Delray Beach, Fla. Several Big Ten schools, including Illinois, Michigan , Iowa and Northwestern, as well as defending BIG EAST champion Marquette and St. John’s, will be part of the 14-team tournament.
— ND —