Sept. 10, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The Notre Dame men's golf team will begin its 2009-10 season on Sept. 13 at the Spring Hill Golf Club in Wayzata, Minn., as the Irish tee it up at the fifth annual Gopher Invitational. The two-day event, hosted by the University of Minnesota, will feature first and second round play on Sunday, Sept. 13 followed by the final round of play on Monday, Sept. 14.
The Irish are familiar with the Spring Hill Golf Club, having played in the Gopher Invitational in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The par 72, 7,020-yard Tom Fazio designed course has seen Notre Dame record finishes of third (2007), fifth (2005) and ninth (2006). Current fifth-year senior captain Josh Sandman led the team with a 227 (t-19th) in 2007.
"We're excited to kick off our season this weekend" head coach Jim Kubinski said. "The team has come a long way, especially in the last couple of days and I really like what I'm seeing. We've picked it up full swing wise and I think our putting is as good as it has ever been heading into a season."
The 2009-10 season will see Kubinski field his deepest squad since taking over the program in 2005. Eleven members of the 2008-09 team return for the 2009-10 season, with one highly touted freshman added to the fold in Paul McNamara III (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif./Chadwick School). The Irish depth is evident, as three returning members have received all-BIG EAST accolades since joining the program.
"We're certainly very deep," commented the sixth year head coach. "It's funny, I've been asked how we can have players compete in the US Amateur and yet have to fight for lineup spots. The answer is simple. Just come out and watch us during a qualifier, we easily had 10 players in the mix for Minnesota right down to lineup selection. While I'm sometimes the hero to some and the villain to others when we announce a lineup, I'll take the competitive environment we have every time."
Notre Dame will receive a welcome boost back in the lineup as fifth-year senior Josh Sandman (Greensboro, N.C./Southeast Guilford) returns to action following a yearlong layoff after undergoing back surgery in the summer of 2008. A two-time selection to the all-BIG EAST team, Sandman has participated in 82 rounds, with 75 of those rounds counted to the team score. He has also accrued a stroke average of 73.61, which currently is the best career mark in program history.
Another talented senior, Doug Fortner (Tustin, Calif./Foothill), will partner alongside Sandman to provide the Irish with a dynamic one-two punch at the top of the lineup. Fortner, a fellow two-time all-BIG EAST selection, is coming off of a strong junior campaign which saw 31 of his 33 rounds counted towards team scoring. He concluded the 2008-09 campaign by recording a second-place finish at the BIG EAST Championship, carding a six-under 210 for the three-round event.
Sophomore Max Scodro (Chicago, Ill./Notre Dame Prep (Ariz.)) looks to continue to build upon the success he experienced during his freshman season as the 2009-10 schedule gets underway. Last season, Scodro saw 20 of his 29 rounds counted to the team total while also posting a 74.72 stroke average. He was able to secure four top-10 finishes - the most by an Irish freshman since the program switched to tournament play in 1968-69. He also earned his first career tournament victory when he tied for first at the UNCG Bridgestone Collegiate by carding a three-under 213 at the 54-hole tournament.
Seniors Olavo Batista (Sao Paulo, Brazil/Chapel) and Carl Santos-Ocampo (Naples, Fla./Community School of Naples) combine with juniors Connor Alan-Lee (Solana Beach, Calif./La Jolla Country Day), Jeff Chen (Walnut, Calif./Los Altos) and Dustin Zhang (Calgary, Alberta/Bishop Carroll) to provide the Irish with a veteran laden roster.
Santos-Ocampo and Zhang are coming off of a summer in which they qualified for the U.S. Amateur Championships in Tulsa, Okla. Santos-Ocampo was first to qualify for the Irish as he earned his spot in the amateur championship by posting a two-day total of 141, securing a tie for second in his qualifier. Zhang qualified for the Championship a day later, playing both 18-hole rounds on July 27 at Innsbrook Country Club in Merrillville, Ind. where he secured an outright second-place finish by carding a 136. Chen enters his junior season with a career stroke average of 74.14, which places him third in school history behind current teammate Sandman and former teammate Cole Isban. Chen started eight tournaments last season and each of his 24 rounds were counted towards the team score. He also posted top-20 finishes at the Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate in Puerto Rico (t-15th) and at the Border Olympics (t-11th).
"Our greatest strength is probably our experience now," Kubinski analyzed. "We have Josh and Doug at the top of the lineup, who have literally played dozens of events for us. Yet, given we played 10 different players in our starting lineup at one time or another last year, each of our guys can say he has been under the gun. I think the lessons we've learned, as a team, will help us to compete successfully against the best teams this season."
With the current mix of depth and tournament experience on the roster, the Irish are looking to return to NCAA regional qualifying for the fourth time under the instruction of Kubinski and return the BIG EAST crown to Notre Dame, Ind.
FIELD: 12 teams will be competing in the fifth-annual Gopher Invitational from Spring Hill Golf Club. The teams participating include (NGCA rankings in parentheses): Arkansas (8), Iowa (Receiving Votes), Lamar, Miami (OH), Northern Iowa, Notre Dame, Minnesota, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro, UNC Wilmington, Southern Methodist and Wisconsin.
THE GOPHER INVITATIONAL: Notre Dame will be appearing in the Gopher Invitational for the fourth time in the tournament's five-year history (2005, 2006, 2007, 2009). The Irish recorded their best finish at the event in 2007, when the team secured a third-place finish. Notre Dame has also finished in fifth-place (2005) and ninth-place (2006) at the Invitational in its other appearances.
Sandman has carded the best result of any current Irish golfer at the event, finishing in a tie for 19th at the 2006-07 with an 11-over 227 at the 54-hole event. Fortner is next in line with a 20th-place result at the 2007-08 Invite, carding an eight-over 224.
Kubinski's thoughts on the Gopher Invitational... "Minnesota's event is not only a first class tournament and an outstanding college venue but is one where we've enjoyed some success in the past. The golf course is certainly one of the very best tests in the country and is perfectly conditioned. Putting should be a big key this weekend. I feel we have a lineup of players with plenty of heart to pour in some putts."
FORMAT: Each team's lineup will be comprised of five golfers with the lowest four scores for each round counting towards the overall team score. The tournament will consist of 54 holes of golf, with rounds one and two being played consecutively on Sunday, September 13 with the final round of play taking place on Monday. Tournament action will begin both days at 8 a.m., with Sunday featuring a shotgun start.
NOTRE DAME LINEUP: The Irish lineup will be led by Josh Sandman at the No. 1 position and Doug Fortner at No. 2. Also making starts will be Carl Santos-Ocampo, Max Scodro and Jeff Chen. Connor Alan-Lee rounds out the Irish contingent as an individual entrant.
RESULTS: Live hole-by-hole scoring of the Golden Gopher Invitational will be available through Golfstat. To access the site go to http://www.golfstatresults.com, while daily recaps will be posted on und.com.
NEXT UP: The Irish will travel to Franklin, Tenn. for the Mason Rudolph Championship, hosted by Vanderbilt. The three-day tournament will be played from Friday, Sept. 25 through Sunday, Sept. 27 at the Vanderbilt Legends Golf Club.