April 21, 2007
BIG EAST Championship
Sunday-Tuesday, April 22-24, 2007
8 a.m. (ET) each day
Par 72/7,036 yards
Irish Looking To Make History At BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame is the second seed for this year's BIG EAST Championship behind tournament host and top-20 team Louisville. The Irish have posted a pair of runner-up finishes this season and have a 296.71 stroke average that is second-lowest in school history. The winner of this week's conference tournament will take the BIG EAST's automatic berth to the NCAA regionals, which will take play May 17-19 at three sites around the country.
Quoting Coach Kubinski
"We really need our top guys, Cole (Isban) and Josh (Sandman), to step up and bring their best game. They're the type of guys who are very, very competitive. They realize what's at stake. If anything, I think they'll feed off the championship environment. "We've had tremendous contributions from Adam Gifford this season. He has really been a stabilizing force not only in the lineup, but in the locker room. He provides great leadership on and off the course. To go from being a little-used walk-on a couple of years ago to what he is today is only a testament to his character and work ethic.
"Of course, our other underclassmen have shown flashes of brilliance, if also a bit of inconsistency. I think Mother Nature slowed them for a while, but they're ready to hit their stride at the perfect time. Greg Rodgers has been especially impressive. He's getting back to the player that built such a solid record in junior golf.
"All the younger guys - Doug (Fortner), Eddie (Peckels), Mike (King), Kyle (Willis), Carl (Santos-Ocampo) and Olavo (Batista) have worked so hard this season. They've pushed each other to reach this point. There's something about our team that feels good. We haven't played our best golf yet either. There's something left in the tank. I'm looking for a great effort this weekend. The Irish will be ready when the green light shows!"
Dates and Times
Following The Irish
New this year is the Irish ALERT system, which provides fans with regular updates on Notre Dame's progress at the BIG EAST Championship through text messages sent to their cell phone. For more information, visit the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.und.com).
The Tournament Format
Meanwhile, Monday's updated ratings in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index has the tournament field ranked as follows: Louisville (18th), Notre Dame (63rd), Marquette (99th), USF (108th), St. John's (123rd), DePaul (159th), Georgetown (165th), Seton Hall (190th), Connecticut (206th), Cincinnati (217th), Villanova (223rd) and Rutgers (248th).
In addition, the most recent Golfstat rankings (unveiled Wednesday) have the BIG EAST Championship field broken down this way: Louisville (15th), Notre Dame (66th), Marquette (94th), South Florida (99th), St. John's (110th), DePaul (158th), Georgetown (168th), Seton Hall (181st), Connecticut (203rd), Cincinnati (207th), Villanova (215th) and Rutgers (245th).
Notre Dame At The BIG EAST Championship
In addition to their six championships, the Irish have finished as tournament runner-up three times (1998 - tie with St. John's, 2002, 2003) and took third-place honors in 2000.
Notre Dame golfers also have won medalist honors four times, tying Virginia Tech for the third-highest total in conference history behind St. John's (seven) and Providence (six). The most recent Irish individual champion was crowned in 2005 when Mark Baldwin won the weather-shortened BIG EAST Championship with a five-over par 75. Other Notre Dame golfers who were medalists at the conference tournament include: Bill Moore (1995), Todd Vernon (1997) and Steve Ratay (2001 - three-way tie with Brian Krusoe of Virginia Tech and Andrew Svoboda of St. John's).
Potent Notables On The Irish At The BIG EAST Championship
Tourney Rewind: 2006 BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame's comeback was record setting in several ways, starting with its final-round score of 16-under par 272, which shattered the old school record for a single round of 275, set at the 1999 Air Force Invitational (played at altitude in Colorado Springs). The Irish also carded the lowest 54-hole score in the program's 77-year history, a 22-under par 842 (281-289-272) that topped the previous standard by 12 shots (854 at the 2004 Nelson Invitational, played on a shortened par-69 course at Stanford). In addition, it established a new conference tournament three-round record, breaking Virginia Tech's mark of 865 set in 2002. Ironically, Tech was the last team to win three consecutive league titles (2001-03), although Notre Dame becomes just the second team to win three in a row on two separate occasions (1995-97, 2004-06), joining St. John's (1981-84, 1986-89) in that elite company.
What made the '06 rally even more special was the fact that all five Irish golfers made tremendous contributions to the victory. During regulation play, the bottom four players in the Notre Dame lineup all shot under par. Tommy Balderston was the first to finish up, shooting a four-under par 68 that equaled the best round ever posted by an Irish player in BIG EAST Championship play. That mark lasted all of 10 minutes, before Scott Gustafson rolled in with a five-under par 67. Yet, Gustafson's new record didn't stand much longer than Balderston's figure, as Mark Baldwin came along in the next group and drained a tricky eight-foot par putt on No. 18 to reset the school standard and match the conference record with a six-under par 66. Cole Isban then tacked on a one-under 71 to cap off the historic performance.
However, when it came to the playoff hole (par-4 No. 18), Josh Sandman was the hero. The Irish rookie had shot the high round of the day for Notre Dame (76, +4), but playing in the second playoff pairing, he ripped his tee shot to the edge of a fairway bunker around 135 yards from the pin. Despite having a dangerous downhill lie on the front lip of the trap, Sandman confidently pulled out a wedge and stuck his approach shot to within 10 feet. He then strode to the green and sank his birdie putt, highlighting a one-under par showing for the Irish in the playoff (birdie, par, par, par), while Louisville went one-over in the same span (par, par, par, bogey) and was hampered when one of its tee shots found the lake next to the 18th fairway.
Entering the final round, Notre Dame was in third place, 12 shots back of Louisville and seven shots behind Marquette, and the Irish knew everything would have to go right and then some if they hoped to defend their back-to-back league titles. However, when the dust settled, all five Irish golfers finished among the top 20 in the 60-man field. Baldwin led the way with a tie for fifth place at four-under par 212 (69-77-66), setting a school 54-hole record for conference tournament play and also becoming the first Notre Dame player ever to be named all-BIG EAST three times. Gustafson and Isban tied for eighth place at three-under par 213, with Gustafson shooting round of 75-71 and a career-low-tying 67, while Isban carded steady marks of 70, 72 and 71.
Balderston was a late addition to the Irish lineup, having not played in a tournament all year long due to injury. In fact, one of his last events as a member of the Notre Dame travel squad came in February 2005, when he helped the Irish win the NOKIA Sugar Bowl Tulane Invitational at New Orleans on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. His contributions this week led to another heart stopping win, as he finished tied for 13th place with a one-under par 215 (72-75-68), with his final-round score being one off his career best (67 at the 2004 John Dallio Memorial Invitational).
Despite his regulation struggles, Sandman closed out his first BIG EAST Championship in a 20th-place tie at one-over par 217 (70-71-76). That score was even more amazing when one considers that a month earlier, he had yet to play a college event because of a back injury.
Last Time Out: Kepler Intercollegiate
After the second round was suspended by rain, play resumed the next morning, but due to the delay and travel plans of numerous teams in the field, tournament organizers trimmed the event to 36 holes. The conditions weren't much better on day two, with only one of the 16 teams breaking 305 for the second round (Louisville at 299). What's more, only one player managed to reach par for the tournament, as Michigan State's Matt Harmon took medalist honors with an even-par 142.
Senior co-captain Cole Isban was Notre Dame's top finisher, tying for 32nd place at 13-over par 155 (79-76), two strokes better than junior Greg Rodgers and sophomore Josh Sandman, who tied for 40th place at 15-over par 157 after each man carded rounds of 78 and 79. Senior co-captain Adam Gifford was tied for 53rd place at 19-over par 161 (81-80), while freshman Doug Fortner shared 78th place at 24-over par 166 (79-87). Junior Mike King competed as an individual this weekend, tying for 81st place at 25-over par 167 (79-88).
Three Tournaments, Three Aces For Irish
Fortner was the first to card a "single" on Sept. 16 in the second round of the Gopher Invitational in Wayzata, Minn., pulling out a pitching wedge and sinking his tee shot on the par-3, 139-yard 17th hole at the Spring Hill Golf Club. Not to be outdone, Santos-Ocampo made his mark in the final round of the John Dallio Memorial (a "B" team event for the Irish) in West Chicago, Ill., using a 7-iron to bury his tee shot on the par-3, 175-yard third hole at the Prairie Landing Golf Club.
Santos-Ocampo was at it again on Oct. 10 in the final round of the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic. Playing into a stiff breeze, the diminutive Notre Dame freshman took an 8-iron to the tee of the par-3, fourth hole at the Warren Golf Course and promptly buried his 136-yard tee shot.
Both Fortner and Santos-Ocampo were featured in the Oct. 30 edition of Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" for their accomplishment, which is believed to be the first of its kind in NCAA Division I history.
Next Up: NCAA Regionals (May 17-19)