Oct. 18, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - With three tournaments in the books on its 2013 fall schedule, the University of Notre Dame men's golf team is now in the stretch run of the autumn slate. The Irish earned an eighth place finish out of 14 teams at the Crooked Stick Golf Club earlier this week, a golf course that has hosted both major championships and other high profile professional and amateur events since opening in 1964.
Six of the seven teams who finished in front of Notre Dame on the final Crooked Stick Intercollegiate leaderboard are ranked among the top 50 in the nation, but as Irish head coach Jim Kubinski explained, golf is a sport that is naturally steeped in parity.
"I give us credit because we beat the teams we were ranked in front of, and we went ahead and did the things we needed to do to beat them," Kubinski said. "For a number of reasons, one of which being our short scoring game, we really weren't as good as we've seen in the five or six weeks played at home. We're going to make those improvements, and right now at the quarter point of the fall season, we let some shots get away for those reasons."
Prior to Monday, Notre Dame had not logged a tournament round since the final day of its very own Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic on Sept. 24 at the Warren Golf Course. Irish assistant coach Scott Gump does not feel the break in the competitive schedule hampered the team at Crooked Stick.
"The competitive groove stayed, because the guys in qualifying posted some solid numbers," Gump said. "Players definitely showed up and performed competing against each other, so I am very proud of them there. The hardest thing about golf is the tournament travel. Playing well at one place, especially at home, that's fantastic, but in tournament golf you have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable."
Gump said that often times, a player further down the lineup might arrive at an unfamiliar venue and look great given the short turnaround to prepare, while a player considered an anchor of the roster can struggle under the very same circumstances. The longtime PGA Tour veteran insists that it is all part of a learning process.
"We feel the commitment from these guys, but the next step is to learn from mistakes and grow," Gump said. "For any athletic team that's what you strive for, to keep improving."
Senior Niall Platt led all Irish finishers for the third straight tournament at Crooked Stick, earning a share of 15th place after carding a final round two-under-par 70 Tuesday that included six birdies. Platt, currently among the top-100 players nationally according to both Golfstat and Golfweek, is the first ranked Notre Dame men's golfer since Max Scodro ('12) earned the honor. The Santa Barbara, Calif., native is the sixth Irish player to crack the top 100 during Kubinski's nine-year tenure, joining Scodro, Mark Baldwin ('05), Scott Gustafson ('05), Cole Isban ('05) and Josh Sandman ('08).
"The neat thing in all of those cases was where each player started and where they got to along the way, the positive things they did with their games and how they grew," Kubinski said. "Niall's confidence has grown each year, and he's also made great strides with that confidence to get to this point. Our personalities are who we are but in the competitive arena you have to stay positive all of the time, you can't be negative, and Niall has grown so much in that way. He's an analytical guy and he wants an explanation for different things, and that is a reason why he (also) does so well in the classroom."
Gump was able to follow Platt for his final round at Crooked Stick, the fourth-lowest gross 18-hole total turned in by a Notre Dame player this season, and said that when he is on the course with team members, he tries to evaluate each of their games in the context of where specific players are in their careers.
"When I first watched Niall last year, I noticed he was a really solid player who might have struggled a bit with his confidence, but I really liked his game," Gump said. "This summer he really worked his tail off, and when he came back to campus I sensed a different player. I am extremely excited for him not only this year, but in upcoming years. Everyone's goal is to play the tour if you're a high-level player, and I really see the potential in him."
Each of Notre Dame's members of the 2013 freshman class, Blake Barens, Liam Cox and Matt Rushton, have seen significant time in the starting five through their first three collegiate tournaments, with both Cox and Rushton playing in all of the team's events so far this fall. Kubinski said that it is understood that even highly talented freshmen need the opportunity to develop, but based on strong summer schedules, the class of 2017 arrived on campus ahead of the curve.
"There is a lot to learn but I think they are on a great course, and are going to contribute a tremendous amount to our team over the next few years," Kubinski said. "They're going to be anchors, whether it's this year or next year as we move along. They have actually met all expectations so far, and have done so many little things that I have liked to see. I am really excited about their futures, and the neat thing about all three is that they want to get better."
Notre Dame returns to a familiar venue this week when it travels to the Member's Club at Four Streams in Beallsville, Md., to take part in the Georgetown University Intercollegiate. The Irish posted their best team finish last season at Four Streams, a runner-up result in the 12-team field after carding a combined score of 865 (+13). Current junior Tyler Wingo recorded the best Notre Dame score of the week, polishing off a one-under-par 70 during the second round.
The team spent its short practice week working on mid to short iron play, something Kubinski feels will be the key to going low at the Georgetown Intercollegiate on Monday and Tuesday.
"I think it's a golf course that sets up really well for us," Kubinski said. "You want to drive the ball well, which we do, and we've been working to make short iron improvements this week. We are a good putting team, there are certainly weeks when you make more than others, and the golf course will be in great shape. We feel good about this week."
-- Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant