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 year."
|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 Weeks."
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 Owens Invitational.
"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.).