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Men’s Golf: Irish take second straight Big East title

Ken Fowler | Monday, April 25, 2005

A 31-over 311 doesn’t usually equate to a good round for a team. Nor does a 7-over 77 usually make a good round for an individual.Then again, it doesn’t usually snow at the end of April.This weekend, the Warren Golf Course saw the exception to all three rules, as Notre Dame won the snow-shortened Big East Men’s Golf Championship by five strokes over Georgetown, and junior Mark Baldwin took home medalist honors.”This weekend wasn’t what we wanted it to be,” said sophomore Cole Isban, who earned all-conference honors for the second straight year.”We’re taking it in stride and feel fortunate that we came out with the victory.”The tournament was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Saturday morning and see three rounds over two days, but Mother Nature had other ideas for the golfers.After a cold front moved through Friday night, the Big East delayed the morning tee times on Saturday until 10 a.m. and announced that only one round would be played on the first day.That round ended up being the only one played, as the 54-hole tournament lasted just 18.Before the tournament began, Irish coach Jim Kubinski prepared his team for such a possibility, saying he wanted his team to be ahead wire-to-wire in the event that the tournament was shortened.”If they shorten the event from 54 holes – if you’re trailing at that point, you’re out of luck,” he said.His golfers listened to him and took advantage of the shortened tournament, though it took a strong back nine by the entire team. At the turn, Georgetown led the Irish by three, and that lead grew to six within three holes.But then the Irish “really grinded it out,” Isban said.Of the four golfers’ scores that went toward the team total, they had just three bogeys in the final six holes, playing No. 12 through No. 18 in a stellar one-over par.”The last six holes of the tournament were incredibly difficult with an increasing wind and the temperature dropping,” Baldwin said.”But those kinds of conditions … favor our team. Instead of looking at it as a threat and a danger, we see it as a challenge. We’re just a group of guys who … can play with our backs up against the ropes.”Although the Irish made just four birdies in the round, they made eight double-bogeys compared to Georgetown’s 12. A number that low was an impressive feat amidst the snow and 30-mile-per-hour winds.”We weren’t so much going at pins as we were going at greens,” said Isban, who hit just three of 18 greens in regulation.Baldwin had a little more success than Isban, as he was just one stroke behind leader and playing partner Matt Bausa of Georgetown when he and Bausa reached the 18th.It was there two years ago that Baldwin led off with his driver in the final round of the Big East Championship as the Irish were tied with Virginia Tech for the lead.That aggressive play led to a hooked shot that landed in the creek that runs along the left side of the fairway. Baldwin made a costly mistake, and Notre Dame lost to the Hokies by just two.This time, he played it smarter.Up to that point, Baldwin had played a solid round in the inclement weather, tallying six bogeys, 11 pars and no birdies.He would not remain birdie-less much longer, making a three on the 434-yard, par-four 18th.When Bausa bogeyed, Baldwin took the lead for good.”Against Virginia Tech, I hit it dead left into the water,” he said. “And a couple years later, I made the smart play and hit a three wood and made the birdie.”That birdie capped a gutsy even-par 35 on the back nine and won him medalist honors with his five-over 75.”The back nine of the Big East [Championship] this year definitely goes down as one of my best performances,” he said.Just two weeks ago, Baldwin set the course record with a seven-under 63. Saturday, he won the conference championship with a score 12 strokes higher, grinding all the while.While the numbers might say otherwise, Baldwin said, “I would rank this – especially the back nine – right up there [with the 63].”His performance Saturday earned him a spot on the all-conference team. For the Irish, junior Eric Deutsch and Isban also received that honor. Deutsch tied for third with a seven-over 77, and Isban tied for seventh with a 79.For Isban, the day was “pretty unique.””It was definitely the toughest conditions I’ve played in,” he said. “The wind was honestly 25, 35 maybe 45 miles an hour at times. When you add in snow falling as little ice pellets flying in your face – obviously it’s pretty tough.”In the end, it wasn’t too tough for the Irish, who won by five.Baldwin attributes much of the success this weekend to the relationship between the team members.”We’re all so close and it introduces the real concept of team golf,” he said. “You’re carrying the hopes and aspirations of the team itself on your back, and that makes you play better.”It did this weekend.The win guarantees Notre Dame a spot in one of three NCAA Regionals. With the Notre Dame hosting one of the regionals, the Irish will return to action at the Warren for the Central Regional May 19-21.First-year head coach Jim Kubinski will have to continue to prepare the team for that test.The Irish placed 12th in the Central Regional last year, missing the cut for the National Championship.”We’re looking forward to playing on our home course,” Kubinski said, “and taking that next step to get to the national tournament this year.”