December 29, 1998

by Pete LaFleur

The 1998-99 Notre Dame women’s golf team will look to gain confidence during its spring season, after a 1998 fall campaign that saw the young squad make progress over the course of four tournaments. “The team is searching for an identity and for some confidence right now,” says sixth-year head coach Ross Smith, whose team wrapped up its fall schedule in late October by playing host to the Notre Dame Invitational in Bonita Springs, Fla., for the second straight year.

“We have become more competitive over the last couple of years and we should become much stronger as we get into the spring season. We have some very talented players who just need to get a few more college tournaments under their belts.”

The Irish have the rare distinction of having no seniors on the 13-player roster, with juniors Andrea Klee and Beth Cooper and sophomore Mary Klein ranking as the only players with significant college tournament experience.

“Success for this team may not be the same as for others,” explains Smith. “We have a unique situation in that the entire team will be back for 1999-2000. So our approach is to try and play the best we can in each tournament, while steadily building to the point where we can be competitive with every team in the Midwest. We won’t know until this time next year whether we have made the needed progress towards that goal, but this team has the depth of talent and level of work ethic that it takes to get there.”

Klee has been the clear leader of the program in the fall of 1998, as the junior team captain led the team in the first three events-the Michigan State Invitational, the prestigious Lady Northern Intercollegiate (held this year at Purdue’s Kampen Course) and the Michigan Invitational-while posting an 80.50 stroke average that would rank third-best in the 10-year history of Notre Dame women’s golf. After a bumpy freshman season, Klee has counted to the team score (lowest four) in 33 of 34 rounds during the past two seasons, and despite some rough moments in the fall of 1998, she is poised for a strong 1998-99 campaign.

“Andrea is not happy with some of the scores she has been shooting-she’s having a hard time completing a round,” says Smith. “She just needs to get back to the point where she is trusting her swing. Right now, Andrea is simply pushing herself too hard. She hits the ball as well as any of the players from other teams, has good length, is controlling the ball better and is a good putter when she believes in herself. She is clearly our leader for the present and the future.”

Klein, who hails from nearby Kokomo, Ind., turned in a freshman season that included a solid 82.00 stroke average and a fifth-place showing at the Indiana Invitational, after totaling an eight-over 230. But like Klee, Klein has struggled at times this fall but capped the semester with a team-best showing at the Notre Dame Invitational (sixth out of 76 golfers) for an 81.70 fall stroke average.

“Mary has big-time ability, it’s just a matter of her putting it all together and maintaining that level of play for a full tournament,” says Smith of Klein, who stood in 10th at the Lady Northern thanks to rounds of 79 and 81 before a devastating final-round 91. “Mary is very consistent off the tee and is a good putter, but her iron game is just holding her back a little right now. But when she gets it going, watch out.

“In fact, when Andrea and Mary are at the top of their games, they can be one of the top 1-2 punches in the entire Midwest. And that’s an important thing to have for a program that is looking to establish a name for itself.”

Cooper averaged an inconsistent 84.29 strokes per round during the fall but is capable of consistently breaking 80 due to a strong short game. Her classmate Brigid Fisher earned a spot in the starting six this fall and is recognized by Smith for having one of the top short games among players in the Midwest. Newcomers Shane Smith, a sophomore transfer from SMU, and Kristin McMurtrie also have gained early tournament experience, after refining their swings. Other top candidates for the top eight spots have included promising sophomores Becca Schloss and Danielle Villarosa and freshman Lauren Fuchs.

Smith remains optimistic for the future of women’s golf at Notre Dame, based on the strong core group that will return in 1999-2000, when the program also will reap the benefits of the soon-to-be-completed William K. and Natalie O. Warren Golf Course, on the North side of campus.

“The new Warren Golf Course, combined with some solid results that we’ve been able to post, are the type of things that help your program become even more attractive,” says Smith.

“In particular, the Warren Golf Course will provide great convenience, because it is within walking distance, in addition to being a championship-caliber facility. Practicing on that course will prepare us for playing anywhere in the country, which is a great bonus to have over the course of a full season. We’re just excited for the overall potential of the program right now.”