Tom Usher (pictured) and his fellow seniors Chris Walker and Max Scodro hope to anchor a very talented, very deep rotation in 2011.

Reigning BIG EAST Champion Irish Prepare To Hit First Drive Of 2011 Season

Sept. 9, 2011

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame men’s golf team is set to get its 2011 season underway this weekend when it heads to the Gopher Invitational on Sunday and Monday at Spring Hill Golf Club in Wayzata, Minn. Action gets underway with an 8:00 a.m. (CT) shotgun start on Sunday with the final round teeing off at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

The Gopher Invitational enters its seventh year of existence, with the Irish having competed in the event four times previously. The 14-team field represents the largest in the tournament’s history with 10 collegiate conferences being represented. Notre Dame earned its best finish in 2007, tying for fourth with a three-round total of 893 (+29).

As is typical for most collegiate tournaments, the Gopher Invitational features a five-count-four format. Each team will feature a five-man rotation with the best four scores during each round counting toward the team score. Experience is on Notre Dame’s side entering their opener, as they return five players to the rotation who competed in 20 or more rounds last season as part of the five-man unit.

“My expectation is for our players to be prepared, focused and excited for the opportunity in front of us,” stated Irish head coach Jim Kubinski. “As a general feeling or goal, I believe our team can contend for wins each week. There’s a lot involved in accomplishing that goal. We have talent and experience, two very big factors. Again though, we need to see where we are in terms of our habits and our emotional maturity. If we’re successful in those areas, we should have a great chance this week and, really, every week. The one thing that this team must do though, something that will give us an advantage, is to eliminate the big number. I think the extra year of competitive experience, having our entire lineup intact from last season, will help us there.”

A trio of seniors anchor the Irish lineup, as Max Scodro (Chicago, Ill.), Tom Usher (Baildon, England) and Chris Walker (The Woodlands, Texas) have competed in a combined 64 tournaments over their first three seasons as part of the team rotation.

Scodro enters his final campaign coming off of his most successful season as part of the Irish. The 2010 BIG EAST Player of the Year and member of the PING All-Midwest Region team, Scodro posted his lowest season stroke average (73.30) en route to being the highest Irish finisher at three tournaments. Additionally, he posted 12 rounds of par or better golf, including four rounds that broke 70.

Usher and Walker both return after more than doubling their tournament experience during their junior campaigns. Usher, having competed in seven events in his first two years, took part in eight tournaments before being lost for the remainder of the season with a hand injury. He finished the season with a 74.70 stroke average and led the Irish at three tournaments, including capturing medalist honors at the St. Mary’s Invitational.

Walker, meanwhile, put in 11 tournament efforts in ’10 after combining for nine his freshman and sophomore years. To go along with four individual top-10 finishes, he finished third on the squad in stroke average at 73.93 and put together nine rounds of even- or under-par golf, including two rounds in the 60’s.

Junior Paul McNamara III (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.) and sophomore Niall Platt (Santa Barbara, Calif.) each return for their second stint as members of the Irish rotation in `11. McNamara competed in nine tournaments with the starting five last year, finishing fourth in stroke average at 74.30 while seeing 21 of his possible 24 rounds (.875) count toward the team total.

Platt returns with supreme confidence after a very successful freshman campaign that culminated with him earning BIG EAST Freshman of the Year honors. Along with finishing second on the team in stroke average (73.40), Platt also earned five top-10 finishes and put together a team-leading 14 rounds of even- or under-par golf.

With so much tournament-experienced talent returning in ’11 the Irish hope to jump out to a quick start during the fall season, beginning with this weekend’s Gopher Invitational.

COURSE: The Gopher Invite will take place at Spring Hill Golf Club in Wayzata, Minn. The Tom Fazio desgned course will be played to a length of 7,020 yards and a par 72.

“We’ve supported Minnesota’s event quite well over the years because of the quality of the golf course that hosts the Gopher Invitational,” said Kubinski. “It’s a special place and, in all likelihood, the finest conditioned tournament course we’ll visit. The layout is a fantastic blend of holes. There are some testing tee shots and approaches. There are some generous landing areas too. There are also some holes where a player can gamble. To me though, there are very few gambles worth the risk. I’d prefer our guys play it in a more straight forward manner, as par is a solid score.”

FIELD: The 2011 Gopher Invitational will feature a 14-team field competing for the title at Spring Hill Golf Club in Wayzata, Minn., including seven teams that ended last season ranked within the Golfstat top 50. The teams participating include (final 2010 Golfstat rankings in parentheses): Arkansas (17), Iowa (9), Kent State (27), Liberty (35), North Texas (44), Minnesota (77), Notre Dame (48), SMU (49), UNC Charlotte (57), Penn State (74), Lamar (72), Santa Clara (99), Houston (104) and Wisconsin (183).

“It’s nice to play in a quality field, something we’ve made a priority of,” remarked Kubinski. “Honestly though, at least for our team, I think it’s too early to consider rankings. We’ll focus on accomplishing all the things we need to do to be prepared and continue to stress building good habits. The results will take care of themselves as the season evolves. As a player though, it’s always fun to compete against top teams and players. I know our guys are looking forward to that challenge this weekend.”

FORMAT: Each team’s lineup will be comprised of five golfers with the lowest four scores for each round counting towards the overall team score. The tournament will consist of 54 holes of golf, with rounds one and two being played consecutively on Sunday, September 11 and the final round of play taking place on Monday.

Tournament action gets underway with an 8:00 a.m. (CT) shotgun start Sunday with the second round commencing immediately thereafter and an 8:30 a.m. start to Monday’s final round.

NOTRE DAME LINEUP: An experienced Irish lineup returns to the course in 2011 featuring seniors Max Scodro, Tom Usher and Chris Walker along with junior Paul McNamara III and sophomore Niall Platt.

RESULTS: Live hole-by-hole scoring of the Gopher Invitational will be available through Golfstat, accessible at Daily recaps of the Irish will be posted on shortly upon conclusion of their rounds.

NEXT UP: The Irish head to the Land of Lincoln to take part in the Olympia Fields Invitational (Fri., Sept. 16 – Sun., Sept. 18) at Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago, Ill.