March 4, 2003
When Notre Dame men's golf coach John Jasinski looked ahead to the 2002-03 season he started thinking young.
In his second season guiding the Notre Dame men's golf program, Jasinski wanted to see if the hard work he put into recruiting his first class for the Irish had paid off.
Heading into the spring schedule, Jasinski is pleased with the early results.
In five fall tournaments, the Irish turned in three of the top 20 54-hole totals in the program's history. The team's 297.53 average for the fall would be the best single-season mark in school history by .76 strokes.
Jasinski brought in a freshman class of six that has seen four members become key players among Notre Dame's top five golfers.
"With our first recruiting class coming in, I really wanted to test those guys early and see how they would stand up in the qualifying," says Jasinski.
"(Mark) Baldwin, (Tommy) Balderston, (Scott) Gustafson and (Eric) Deutsch all came in and competed immediately. That helped me gain a lot of trust in those guys right off the bat and I made a commitment to those four freshmen to give them a chance to get a good view of what Division I golf is like."
While Jasinski's lineup was proving itself, the Irish also upgraded their schedule, so the lower results came against top competition at quality tournaments.
"We really made a huge jump in terms of the quality of events that we played in between this season and last,"said Jasinski.
"Last year, our national ranking in strength of schedule was 123 while this year we were 47th. Our freshmen stood up very well and put up some excellent scores in their first Division I competition."
While success on the course came for the freshman class, it had a major impact on the team as a whole, according to Jasinski.
"The success our younger guys had in the fall really helped the entire team because when they came back to qualify for the next tournament, the competition here improved between those at home and the guys who played the week before. The entire team was motivated by what was happening out in the competitive field."
For 2002-03, the team's goal is to advance to the NCAA tournament. This can be accomplished in one of two ways - either qualify at the regional level or win the BIG EAST title. The Irish will have the home-course advantage this year as Notre Dame hosts the 2003 BIG EAST Championship at the Warren Golf Course.
"Being able to host the BIG EAST Championship at the Warren and the comfort level we have there, gives us a chance of being the BIG EAST champions. We've increased our talent level this season, now the question is can we muster up the performance on that weekend," said Jasinski.
Leading the Irish into the spring will be senior captain Brandon Lunke (San Antonio, Texas).
Notre Dame's top returnee from last season, Lunke came into the year with a 76.98 average in 16 career tournaments. He bettered that total by over three strokes in the fall with the team's top average (73.33) for nine rounds.
After not qualifying for the first two fall tournaments, Lunke found his game at the Fresno Lexus Golf Classic on Oct. 10-11.
Lunke opened with a three-under par 69 on his way to a tie for fifth place and a three-under par 213 (69-71-73). The opening round 69 and the 54-hole total of 213 were career bests for the Texas native.
At the Stonebridge Invitational at Southern Methodist, Lunke fired a 12-over par 228 as the Irish had their best finish of the season, tying for fifth in the 14-team field.
After Lunke, four freshmen usually filled out Notre Dame's top five golfers.
Mark Baldwin (Laconia, N.H.), Eric Deutsch (Rochester, Minn.), Scott Gustafson (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Tommy Balderston (Boca Raton, Fla.) each took a turn being the top finisher for the Irish during the season.
Baldwin finished second to Lunke with a 75.08 average for the fall, playing in 12 rounds with nine counting to the team's score.
The New Hampshire native started slow as he battled the effects of mononucleosis in the fall, but came on strong in his final two appearances.
As his health improved, so did his scores. At the SMU Stonebridge Invitational, Baldwin shot a six-over par 222 with his three lowest rounds of the year of 76-74-72.
The hard-working freshman closed the fall as the team's top finisher (11th overall in a field of 96) at Stanford's Nelson Invitational where he fired an opening round, four-under par 67, on the way to a two-under 211 (67-72-72).
His 67 was the third-lowest single round ever shot by a Notre Dame golfer and the 54-hole mark of 211 was the fourth-best tournament score in Irish history.
Deutsch played in all five tournaments during the fall. He averaged a 75.13 for 15 rounds with 13 counting to team scoring.
The 2002 Minnesota State A champ got his collegiate career off to a fast start by leading Notre Dame at the season-opening Inverness Intercollegiate. His 12-over par 225 (73-73-79) was good for a tie for 22nd.
At the Kansas Invitational, Deutsch had a 13-over par 229 (76-78-75). The third week of the season saw him shoot an eight-over par 224 (74-74-76) at Fresno, good for a tie for 38th.
At the SMU Stonebridge Invitational, Deutsch put together his best round of the fall with an even-par 216 (68-77-71), which included his best round (four-under par 68) and best 54-hole finish. He tied for 12th in the tournament.
Gustafson ranked third among the three Irish freshmen with a 75.20 average (just .12 strokes separated the threesome) in 15 rounds.
The Minnesota State AA champion, Gustafson turned in his team-best effort at the Kansas Invitational in late September as he tied for 17th in an 81-player field. He shot a three-over par 219 for the 54-holes with rounds of 75, 69 and 75.
At the Fresno Lexus Golf Classic, Gustafson was second among Notre Dame golfers (17th overall) as he fired his second consecutive 54-hole total of 219 (69-74-76).
He closed the fall with a 232 (77-71-84) at the SMU Stonebridge Invitational and a 227 (74-78-75) at the Nelson Invitational.
Balderston rounds out the four freshmen regulars and finished the fall with a 76.40 average in 15 rounds.
After struggling early at the Inverness Intercollegiate, he bounced back at the Kansas Invitational finishing second among Notre Dame golfers with a 12-over par 228 (75-79-74), good for 46th overall.
His top performance of the fall came at the SMU Stonebridge Invitational where he tied for fifth with a three-under par 213. His rounds included a three-under 69 and a one-under 71 that sandwiched a second round 73.
Balderston closed the fall with a strong effort at the Nelson Invitational, firing a 10-over par 223 (71-78-74).
Following Notre Dame's top five are a group of solid golfers who played a great deal just a season ago (2001-02).
Gavin Ferlic (Jr., South Bend, Ind.) will be among the Irish golfers looking to break into the top five this spring.
The junior owns a 77.57 average for his career and in his only appearance of the fall at the Kansas Invitational, finished second among Irish golfers, tying Balderston for 46th with a 228 (77-78-73).
Fellow junior Bill McCaughan (Key Biscayne, Fla.), who walked on to the team as a sophomore and finished 10th at the 2002 BIG EAST Championship, played in one fall tournament, the Inverness Intercollegiate, where he had a 24-over par 237 (80-76-81). For his career, McCaughan has a 78.27 average.
Three sophomores who were regulars as freshmen a year ago, Steve Colnitis (Baldwin, Md.), Ryan Marshall (Marco Island, Fla.) and K.C. Wiseman (South Bend, Ind.) will look to break into the top five.
Colnitis played in nine tournaments as a freshman with a 77.04 average. He did not play in any fall tournaments for the Irish.
Marshall, an all-BIG EAST performer in 2002, played in two fall tournaments as an individual entrant finishing with a 240 (86-75-79) at the SMU Stonebridge Invitational and 68th at the Nelson Invitational with a 226 (74-72-80).
Wiseman came on strong in the spring of his freshman year finishing third among Irish golfers with a 76.90 average. He tied for 35th in his lone tournament of the fall as he had an 18-over 231 at the Inverness Intercollegiate.
Two other freshmen who will look to make their mark on Notre Dame golf are Daniel Klauer (Granger, Ind.) and Federico Salazar (Bogota, Columbia).
Klauer joined the Irish after being one of the top golfers in the state of Indiana.
Salazar played high school golf at the same high school (St. Andrews) as fellow freshman Tommy Balderston. He was rated as one of the top junior golfers in Columbia.
While Jasinski has many of the pieces in place to drive the Irish to the top of the college golf world, he realizes that his team is still a work in progress.
"We are looking forward to the spring," says Jasinski.
"Our younger players now know what the standard is, what level they have to play at to be successful. We got what we wanted out of the fall and now I sense that there is a bright future as this group matures into a nationally competitive team."