Sept. 6, 2008
Monday-Tuesday, Sept. 8-9, 2008
8 a.m. (PT) both days
The Olympic Club (Daly City, Calif.)
Par 70/6,842 yards
Irish Set To Open 80th Season Of Action At Famed Olympic Club
The Irish are a blossoming squad, with their top seven scorers back from last year's team that posted a 295.27 stroke average (second-lowest in program history) while playing one of the nation's toughest schedules. However, Notre Dame remains exceptionally young, with more than half (seven) of its 12-man roster being underclassmen. The Irish also should gain the benefit of an early start to the season, courtesy of a week-long trip to Ireland in mid-August, during which time the players and coaches were able to compete and master some of the world's most challenging links courses (junior Doug Fortner's 67 at Ballybunion was a trip highlight that still has the locals buzzing).
Quoting Coach Kubinski...
"I haven't played Olympic. I only know what I've seen in watching the majors there. It looks like it requires solid shotmaking to hold their fairways and greens, and a deft putting touch. I believe this is the first college event hosted there, at least the first in quite some time, so it's too tough to predict numbers. I plan to have our guys simply play the shots and be prepared to grind for their scores.
"Our lineup should be pretty well suited for this challenge. We have players this week who can play shots and all are very solid around the greens. (Juniors) Doug Fortner and Carl Santos-Ocampo are the `veteran' players given they're the oldest in our lineup and have excellent amateur records. Doug has been in a mainstay for us since freshman year and Carl, coming off solid work at the U.S. Amateur, is in very good form. It's tough to lose a player like our senior Josh (Sandman), as he recovers from surgery, but both Doug and Carl are battlers and leaders in many ways.
"We'll have three sophomores rounding out the lineup. Both (sophomores) Connor Alan-Lee and Tyler Hock played multiple events last season and put together impressive stretches at times. They look to be stronger players this season as both have worked hard and gone through a natural maturation from their frosh campaigns.
"(Sophomore) Jeff Chen is the newcomer to the lineup. Jeff won our recent qualifier over 72 holes and really left no doubts. He's a very consistent player with a very, very good short game. Jeff plays intelligently. I look for him to be very steady in our lineup.
"As with any sport, you're not sure exactly what you have until you begin to compete. I like our young group, though. They've shown signs already of being a special group. We're excited to get started and will just try to keep improving throughout the season."
Dates and Times
Following The Irish
Furthermore, results will be available via the Irish ALERT text-message system, which provides fans with regular updates on Notre Dame's progress at the Irish Invitational through text messages sent to their cell phone. For more information or to sign up, visit the men's golf page of the official Notre Dame athletics web site (UND.com).
The Tournament Format
Notre Dame's Young Guns Aim For Big Things In 2008-09 (season preview)
Piece by piece, head coach Jim Kubinski has spent the past four seasons, painstakingly crafting the Notre Dame men's golf team with an eye on returning the Irish to its traditional position among the nation's elite programs.
Since Kubinski stepped on to the Notre Dame campus in January 2005, the Irish have posted four of the top seven single-season stroke averages in school history, including the top three marks in the past three years.
What's more, Notre Dame has been ranked among the top 75 teams in the country (according to Golfweek) annually since 2005 and has become a regular contender for NCAA postseason play, not to mention BIG EAST championship hardware (which the Irish have won six times, most recently from 2004-06).
Entering the 2008-09 season, Notre Dame looks to add even more pieces to its championship puzzle. The Irish remain an exceptionally young squad, with seven of the 12 players on the roster being underclassmen. However, despite its youth, Notre Dame has experience on its side, with the top seven players (in terms of stroke average) back in the fold. Many of those golfers have seen action in some of the nation's toughest tournaments, including a rugged four-event stretch last spring where every tournament was ranked in the Golfweek Top 50.
Sandman also is coming off a stellar 2007-08 season in which he posted a career-low 73.39 stroke average, reeled off five consecutive Top 10 finishes (most by a Notre Dame golfer since at least 1980) and became the first player in school history to earn an individual berth to NCAA regional play. On top of that, he copped PINGAll-Midwest Region honors (the fourth Irish golfer in as many years to attain that status) and garnered his second consecutive all-BIG EAST Conference citation.
"Josh has done an outstanding job these last three years," Kubinski said. "He has worked on his golf swing, body and made major strides in learning to manage his emotions, thoughts and attitude during tournament rounds. His growth was evident just in the consistency he exhibited throughout his junior year. I look forward to watching Josh continue his maturation this year and as a professional. His potential is vast. Beyond the golf course, though, Josh has shown great leadership skills and has handled his responsibilities as our leading player quite well. Once he recovers from off-season surgery, I expect he'll take this even a step further this season."
Last season, the Tustin, Calif., product set a blistering pace in the fall, shooting a team-best 72.77 stroke average and chalking up three consecutive Top 20 finishes, including a career-best tie for second at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic (where he shot a career-low 210, one off the school record).
Fortner capped his year in similar fashion, tying for fourth place at the BIG EAST Championship (219, +3) to pick up his first career all-conference citation. He ended the year with a 73.67 stroke average (third-best on the squad) and saw all 30 of his rounds count to the team score.
"I'm excited about what Doug can become this season," Kubinski noted. "He more than wet his feet during his first two seasons. Beginning in the spring of '07, he played in every event for us. He now has two years of experience to draw from. He's such a solid player throughout the bag. Once he realizes how good he can be, there won't be many players in the country who can match him on a daily basis."
At 5-foot-8, Carl Santos-Ocampo may be physically the shortest player on the Notre Dame roster. However, when it comes to his worth on the course, few players stand taller, as the Naples, Fla., resident emerged last season to become a valuable component to his team's success.
The diminutive Santos-Ocampo finished fourth on the team in stroke average (74.90) while seeing action in seven tournaments, including four in the starting lineup (and the final three regular-season events of the spring). He also posted three Top 10 finishes during the year, highlighted by a career-high-tying share of 10th place at the Irish Invitational, where he closed his season at three-over par 143 and shot a career-low 68 in the opening round.
As if that weren't enough, Santos-Ocampo is coming off one of the strongest summer seasons by an Irish golfer in recent memory. Besides advancing to the first round of match play at the '08 U.S. Amateur (the first Notre Dame player to do so since the tournament's current format was adopted in 1973), he also made the cut at three top amateur events -- the Florida State Amateur, Eastern Amateur and Southern Amateur -- and finished tied for 24th place at the Southern Amateur. In addition, he won the Tournament Players Association (TPA) at Windstar event in his hometown of Naples, Fla., and tied for 11th place (second among amateurs) at the E-Z-Go South Florida PGA Open, which also was held in Naples.
"No player has challenged himself more during the summer in tournament play to be a factor in our lineup than Carl," Kubinski commented. "He's another example of a hard-working Notre Dame golfer. He has improved his swing technique a great deal since arriving on campus and is one of the best tournament putters that I've seen in the college game. He's the ultimate grinder out there. We count on him to get everything he can out of a round because he is so tenacious out there."
Kyle Willis is another veteran who has made steady progress during his college career. A native of Lake Forest, Ill., Willis played in six tournaments last year, cracking the starting lineup for the first time in the final two events of the fall 2007 season. He shot a career-low 75.20 for the year and turned in a season-best 18th-place tie at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic, where he shot a career-low 218 (+8) as an individual competitor.
"Kyle has decided to re-work his swing technique a bit over the summer with the goal of becoming a major player for us these next two years," Kubinski pointed out. "He has the talent to make those advances and has always been a great putter. Kyle has a great deal of fight out there on the course, and he's another great example of a player giving you everything he has on a given day."
Notre Dame has looked overseas for players with international experience in recent years. Olavo Batista is the elder statesman of the three-man foreign contingent on the Irish roster, as the Brazilian national looks to contend for a place in the Notre Dame lineup.
Batista has played in seven tournaments during his first two seasons with the Irish, compiling a career-best 76.64 stroke average in 2007-08. A dogged competitor, he opened the year with a career-best tie for 11th place at the Rutgers Invitational (a "B" team event) after firing a career-low 220 (+7) that included a personal-best one-under par 70 in the opening round.
"No player has inspired me more in my years of coaching than Olavo," Kubinski said. "He has worked and worked and then worked some more. He was behind as a freshman, considering a couple years away from the game in his native Brazil. However, his work ethic and talent have allowed him to catch up. He shows outstanding leadership skills and is someone we will now look at as we set our lineups. I'm proud to have him represent Notre Dame, both on and off the course."
Tyler Hock earned a monogram after a solid rookie season that saw him post a 75.33 stroke average in eight events, including six as a member of the Irish travel squad. The Ocala, Fla., product also rang up three Top 15 finishes as a freshman and tied for second on the team with six rounds at par or lower, including back-to-back rounds of 68 and 69 en route to a season-low 213 (-3) and an 11th-place tie at the Coca-Cola Duke Classic.
"From a pure talent standpoint, Tyler is a special young player," Kubinski noted. "He hits the ball a long way, has great touch around the greens and can shoot very low numbers when he keeps his ball in play. His ultimate success will be determined by how much work he puts in and how his management skills develop, both on the course and emotionally. The great players are very disciplined in their work ethic and thought process. As Tyler evolves in those areas, he'll experience mounting successes. He's already shown flashes of what he can do in 36-hole stretches."
Another player who could make an impact during the upcoming season is Dustin Zhang. The Calgary, Alberta, resident competed in six tournaments during his freshman season, carding a 75.53 stroke average with a pair of Top 10 finishes on his resume. Zhang moved into the starting lineup for the final three spring tournaments and didn't disappoint, with all eight of his rounds counting to the team score. He also posted a season-best fourth-place tie at the Irish Invitational (141, +1) and shot matching scores of 224 (+8) at both the National Invitational Tournament (tie-48th) and the BIG EAST Championship (tie-18th).
"I was thrilled to see Dustin come on at the end of his freshman season," Kubinski commented. "He gave us some great scores both in Tucson and at the BIG EAST Championship. He's as talented as anyone I've seen. He works hard and wants to be a top player, and that's important. The main lesson he learned as a freshman was to channel his desire so that it doesn't get in his way. He started letting himself play the game. I just want him to work hard, stay patient within rounds and enjoy his talent. The rest will take care of itself."
Connor Alan-Lee also appeared in six tournaments as a rookie, winding up with a 76.41 stroke average. He wasted little time in getting acclimated to the Midwest, playing his way into the starting lineup for the season-opening Gopher Invitational, where he tied for 26th place (228, +12). The remainder of the year would be a series of challenges for the Solana Beach, Calif., native, who made three more starts and ended the campaign on a high note with a 10th-place tie at the Irish Invitational (143, +3), where he shot a season-low 69 in the opening round while playing as an individual.
"Connor has a lot of game in his bag," Kubinski pointed out. "I thought he did an exceptional job of competing for a lineup spot almost weekly as a freshman. He drives the ball very well and I like his putting stroke a lot. When he sharpens his wedges and gets his confidence going, he'll be a guy who can win. It's only a matter of continued hard work, any young player, he'll want to compete for a starting spot right away, and he's capable of doing that. More importantly though, I'd like to see him come in, get comfortable with college golf and absorb all he can. He'll give us plenty of great rounds moving forward."
Alan-Lee's California classmate, Jeff Chen, has all the makings of being a major contributor for Notre Dame in '08-09. Chen came along slowly during his first season, playing in four tournaments, but he made the most of those opportunities, finishing second on the team with a 73.55 stroke average. The Walnut, Calif., product, also placed in the Top 20 in three events, topped by his eighth-place tie at the Rutgers Invitational (219, +6), and showed good consistency by shooting 74 or lower in nine of his 11 rounds.
"Jeff didn't earn a starting five trip as a freshmen, but he was statistically as complete an all-around player as we had," Kubinski said. "His greatest strength is that he doesn't have a weak area of his game. He does everything pretty well. He'll add length as he matures and develops. His short game is very impressive. Jeff only needs a little experience. He should be a player to watch this season. When he earns his spot and that could be very soon, I expect he'll give us some great scores."
"Chris comes to us from an area renowned for its high school golf program," Kubinski said. "He has all the tools and just needs time to develop them. Like any young player, he'll want to compete for a starting spot right away, and he's capable of doing that. More importantly, though, I'd like to see him come in, get comfortable with college golf and absorb all he can. He'll give us plenty of great rounds moving forward."
Max Scodro is no stranger to golf in the Midwest, having grown up in the Chicago area and attending Francis Parker High School for three years before moving to Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Ariz., for his senior season. A three-time top-15 finisher in state tournaments (capped by a runner-up showing in the 2007 Arizona 4A-II event), Scodro also has proven his worth at the junior level, earning FCWT first-team All-America honors in 2008, in addition to being named the Central Region Player of the Year (the same award Walker won in 2006).
"Max and Chris are similar in that, while both enjoyed success on the national junior tours, I feel they haven't yet begun to scratch their potential," Kubinski noted. "Max is capable of coming in and earning a spot right away, but again, I'd call the coming season a success for him if he simply comes in, gets comfortable with our game and benefits from taking in all he can. His talent will keep him competitive."
The third foreign-born player on the 2008-09 Notre Dame roster will be Tom Usher from Baildon, England. A veteran of the international game for the past several years, Usher compiled a 72.17 stroke average in his final three junior seasons while playing primarily on England's Nick Faldo Series. He also won three tournaments on that circuit and finished in the Top 10 on 12 occasions.
"Tom has posted some great scores in prestigious events over in the U.K.," Kubinski said. "Obviously, he'll face an acclimation period to not only college life, but life in a foreign country and, really, a different form of golf. I expect he'll handle the changes quite well. Tom has a great attitude and the maturity and discipline to succeed. He's a talented player and one who can add to our program, both on an off the course."
The spring 2009 schedule is still being finalized, but includes the BIG EAST Championship at Dade City's Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club (the site of Notre Dame's memorable 12-shot comeback and playoff win in 2006).
"I'm very much looking forward to getting back to work and kicking off the `08-'09 season," Kubinski said. "We're playing a tremendous schedule at numerous high-quality venues across the country and against the very best teams. We'll be tested throughout, but it's a challenge we're all excited to take on."