Feb. 10, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in an ongoing series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2011 Notre Dame spring sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the Fighting Irish men's golf team, which returns a veteran lineup anchored by three juniors who helped lead Notre Dame into the top 30 of the national rankings this past fall.
The Fighting Irish men's golf team will open the spring portion of their schedule at The Match Play at the TPC of Tampa Bay in Tampa Bay, Fla. The two-day event will be contested on Feb. 11-12 with USF and DePaul serving as the co-hosts.
All told, The Match Play will involve a 16-team field. In addition to the Irish and the host institutions of DePaul and USF; Villanova, Ball State, Kennesaw State, Xavier, Cincinnati, Campbell, Cleveland State, Loyola Maryland, Connecticut, St. John's, Charleston Southern, Marquette and Morehead State will play for The Match Play title.
"We're very much looking forward to starting our spring season," said Irish head coach Jim Kubinski. "The match play format is really an ideal way to get things going. We're going to make birdies either way but the potential for one or two loose swings in a round is greater the first event out of the winter. In match play though, you can live with that. You might lose a hole or two but you won't take yourself out of a round the way you would in stroke play. Plus, I think match play is a format our players really enjoy. They have great competitive fire. You're still playing the golf course but being able to pressure and/or match your opponent on a shot or hole gives you a feeling you don't often experience in stroke play events, where you're battling an entire field."
The tournament sets up as a two-day event with each team getting to compete in four matches, regardless of win-loss record. Each team will send five individuals out in head-to-head matches with each match worth one point to the team score. The best out of five wins their respective match. The teams will compete on the TPC of Tampa Bay, which was designed by Bobby Weed and plays as a 6,898-yard, par-71 course.
"The TPC at Tampa Bay hosts a Senior PGA TOUR event and is a very good golf course," continued Kubinski. "That's a big part of our scheduling philosophy. If you look at where we compete, you will see strong golf courses across the board. We play courses that have hosted professional events, Q School stages and US Open and US Amateur qualifiers. We like to offer that experience to our players. It's important to their development."
The Irish will head to Tampa using an experienced line-up from the fall season. The five players will be juniors Max Scodro (Chicago, IL/Francis Parker), Tom Usher (Bradford, England/Guiseley School), and Chris Walker (The Woodlands, TX/The Woodlands), as well as sophomore Paul McNamara III (Palos Verdes Estates, CA/Chadwick School) and freshman Niall Platt (Santa Barbara, CA/Laguna Blanca School).
"The lineup remains the same as we utilized to win at Bayonet (Saint Mary's Invitational) in our final fall event; we'll have our own "Big Three," in our three juniors leading the way," said Kubinski. "All have shown tremendous improvement in their time at Notre Dame and have developed great leadership qualities."
The Irish will look to two underclassmen in sophomore McNamara and freshman Platt to finish off the five man team. The two combined for two top-five finishes and three top-10 finishes during the fall season.
"Paul McNamara, our lone sophomore, and freshman Niall Platt round out the starting five. Both underclassmen have posted multiple sub 70 rounds this year. We have five players quite capable of breaking par, so our lineup is talented, deep and well-rounded. If we putt well, we should have an opportunity for great success this weekend," assessed Kubinksi.
The Irish will try to build off the success they had at the end of the fall season and continue that into the spring season to build for the BIG EAST Championships in mid-April.
"Most importantly though, we want to get things started in a positive way," Kubinski exclaimed. "We feel this event is one step on a long spring journey. We want to win, of course, but we also want to keep building good habits, exhibit emotional maturity and get back to competing the way we know we can."
The Irish concluded the fall season with a 57-4 head-to-head record which earned them a Golfstat ranking of 27th (Feb. 9, 2011) and 26th according to GolfWeek (Feb. 7, 2011).
The fall campaign was highlighted by taking home first place at the St. Mary's Invitational, as Tom Usher (212, -4) took home top individual honors over Scott Smith of Nevada (210, -2). The win for Usher was his first time atop the podium since his tie for first at the BIG EAST Championships in 2010. It was the first outright individual win for the Irish since Doug Fortner (150, +8) won the 2010 Bandon Dunes Championship. Notre Dame was able to finish the two day tournament at three-under par (861) with a decisive lead over host St. Mary's (881, +17) to take home the team title; the first team victory since the 2009-10 Battle at the Warren where the Irish shot a +12 (292) to hold off Detroit Mercy (298, +18).
Notre Dame took home four second-place finishes on the 2010 fall season. At The Invitational at Kiawah, the Irish shot a 15-over par (879) falling short of first place North Carolina State (873, +9). Freshman Niall Platt tied for second place shooting a one-over par (217) to start his Irish career. The Irish followed that up with a 19-over par (859) score at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic just behind Iowa. The Irish were 22-2 after their first two tournaments, the best start in the Jim Kubinski era. The Irish fell a shot short of Indiana at The Firestone Invitational, posting three under-par rounds for a 14-under par (850) total, but Indiana shot a 15-under par (849) to claim the top spot.
After the Irish open up the spring season at The Match Play at the TPC of Tampa Bay they will travel to Scottsdale, Ariz., to take part in the Alumni Matches in the first weekend of March (Mar. 5). The Notre Dame vs. Yale Challenge Cup follows next at the Reynold's Plantation-Great Waters Course in Greensboro, Ga., on March 14.
Four days later, the Irish will take part in the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational in Statesboro, Ga., at the Forest Heights Country Club (March 18-20). Another trip south to Baton Rouge, La., to compete in the University Club Intercollegiate (April 2-3) at the University Club awaits before the Irish head home to host the Battle at the Warren on April 12 at the Warren Golf Course.
Notre Dame will then travel to the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla. which is the site of the BIG EAST Championships (April 17-19). Notre Dame will close out its regular season competition staying in-state when they travel to West Lafayette to compete at the Boilermaker Invitational (April 23-24) hosted by Purdue University. A hopefully berth into the NCAA Regional awaits the Irish if the team can continue to execute at the level of play that was exhibited throughout the fall campaign.