1997-98 Season Preview
Senior captain Bryan Weeks has established himself as one of the top golfers at Notre Dame in the last 20 years and heads into the 1997-98 season with a 76.68 career stroke average--best at Notre Dame in the 1990s.
The University of Notre Dame men's golf program heads into its
1997-98 season looking to maintain the momentum from a highly successful
'96-'97 campaign in which it won a second straight BIG EAST Conference
title. And to maintain such momentum, the Irish will have to take a look at
two new additions to the five-man starting lineup.
Senior Bryan Weeks (Tulsa, Okla.) heads a returning nucleus that
also includes junior Brad Hardin (Martinsville, Ind.) and sophomore Todd
Vernon (Englewood, Colo.) but the remainder of the starting spots will be
up for grabs, following the departure of four-year letterwinners Brian
Donohoe and Joel Hepler, who served as two-year co-captains for the Irish.
"The 1996-97 season comprised the best year of golf for a Notre
Dame team in this generation--and certainly that success began with the
leadership of Brian and Joel," said George Thomas, who is embarking on his
10th year as head coach of the Irish men's golf program.
"Those two players were the best combination I've ever coached here
at Notre Dame. They were consistent and dependable but now it's time for
others to step up. And that really makes it exciting, because there is a
great opportunity waiting out there for players in the program this
Junior Brad Hardin--who won the campus championship and placed second at the BIG EAST Conference Championship as a sophomore--finds himself as one of the veteran leaders on the Irish men's golf team.
A great opportunity likewise awaits Weeks, who will serve as the
1997-98 Irish team captain while hoping to put himself in contention for a
spot in the NCAA Tournament. A strong Academic All-America candidate who
owns a 3.27 cumulative grade-point average as a civil engineering major,
Weeks heads into his senior year with a 76.68 career stroke average that
ranks among the best by an Irish golfer in the last 30 years. In 1996-97,
it was Weeks--not Donohoe or Hepler--who posted a team-best 76.00 season
stroke average, the second-lowest at Notre Dame during the 1990s.
"Bryan Weeks is simply one of the most gifted, if not the most
gifted, players I've ever coached at Notre Dame," said Thomas, an
accomplished golfer in his own right who continues to shoot his age or
better at annual senior championship events.
Sophomore Todd Vernon will be counted on to elevate his game after playing a major role for the Irish as a freshman.
"Bryan has so much natural ability and talent but the scary thing
is that he can become much better. As an engineering major, he usually
carries 18 hours a semester--he could be unstoppable out there if he ever
has the time to focus more on golf."
Weeks has developed into a complete player during his Irish career
while ironing out some wrinkles in his game and fine-tuning his rhythm
pattern. As a player that can turn in 325-foot drives with regularity,
Weeks' one area of improvement might be in knowing "when to throttle back
and save 20 percent of his stroke", according to Thomas.
Hardin appears ready to raise his performance to another level
while trying to combine with Weeks for a new one-two Irish punch. The
Indiana native is coming off an impressive summer, highlighted by an
opening-round 68 at the state amateur tournament. And as the runner-up at
the 1996 BIG EAST Championship, Hardin should be focused early in the
season on helping the Irish secure a fourth straight conference
championship (Notre Dame won the 1994-95 Midwestern Collegiate Conference
title before taking the team title during each of its first two years in
the BIG EAST).
Senior Brad Stanis could reemerge for the Irish after not competing during the 1997 spring season.
"For a player that struggled to make our team as a freshman, Brad
has accelerated in his development as fast as anyone I've coached," said
Thomas. "This could be a breakthrough year for Brad and the chance is there
for him to assume some leadership for this program. He has great ability
and just needs to remember to remain positive and not get down on himself.
If he does that, we could have another great combination with him and
Vernon was a pleasant surprise as a freshman--when his score
figured toward the team total in the count-four format for 15 of the 17
rounds he played--despite the fact that he was the number-five player and
youngest member of the starting unit. Vernon's showing as a freshman went
beyond just helping the team score, as he led the squad in his only fall
appearance (at the Butler Fall Invitational) before firing five rounds of
75 or lower in the spring--including a 69 at the annual Kentucky Johnny
"We couldn't have asked for more from Todd last season and
certainly look for even better things from him as a sophomore," said
Thomas. "Every year it seems that a new player steps forward for us and
Todd was more than just a role player for us as a freshman, which shows
that he is tough mentally in addition to having the needed skill."
One of the players who could reemerge as a starting five candidate
is senior Brad Stanis (Coral Springs, Fla.), a tenacious player who is
coming off an excellent summer after not playing for the Irish last spring.
"I'm really expecting Stanis to make a push for a starting spot,"
said Thomas. "If he can stay focused and play to his potential, Brad will
be a help to us this season."
Several other returning players should be in the mix for the
starting unit, most notably senior Chip Farrell (South Bend, Ind.) and
sophomore Jeff Connell (LaCrosse, Wis.) while a group of at least eight
newcomers is expected to yield several candidates, among them freshmen Adam
Anderson (Plankington, S.D.), John Dunham (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Jeffrey
Irish (East Lansing, Mich.).