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MEN’S GOLF: Irish to host Big East tourney

Ken Fowler | Friday, April 22, 2005

For the Irish, this weekend’s Big East Championship is a time to play the role of selfish host.

Sure, they’ll be cordial to the competition, but head coach Jim Kubinski wants the team to run away from its opponents as fast as possible.

“Our goal is going to be to try and get off to a fast start,” he said. “Whenever you’re the top seed, if you get off to a fast start, you can take away from the other teams’ confidence.”

After a dismal showing at the Aggie Invitational in College Station, Texas, the team returns home to the Warren Golf Course this weekend to host its most important tournament of the season.

“I think we’ve got plenty of momentum coming off this spring we’ve had,” Kubinski said.

“[The Aggie Invitational] was just a bump in the road.”

Despite Notre Dame’s last-place showing in Texas, Kubinski said the defending champions head into the tournament “confident and upbeat” as the heavy favorite and No. 1 seed.

The Irish have three golfers competing this year who made all-conference honors last year – sophomore Cole Isban and juniors Mark Baldwin and Eric Deutsch. The trio’s play will be pivotal to Notre Dame’s success.

Isban tied for third individually in last year’s conference championship, including an opening round of 69. Deutsch placed fifth in 2004, and Baldwin set the Warren course record two weeks ago with a seven-under 67. Freshman Mike King and junior Scott Gustafson will join their teammates for the 54-hole tournament.

Golfstat ranks the Irish at 52 in the country – one of the highest rankings in school history. In fact, Notre Dame earned three votes in the most recent GCAA/Bridgestone Coaches’ Poll – the first time an Irish team has ever earned votes in the poll.

Of the five other teams in the Big East, Rutgers owns the next best Golfstat ranking at No. 117 and is the No. 2 seed for the Big East. The Scarlet Knights won four tournaments this fall and placed second in another. Rutgers’ senior Brent Pittman leads the Big East in scoring average at 72.67 shots per round.

Georgetown (No. 3 seed), St. John’s (No. 4), Boston College (No. 5) and Villanova (No. 6) comprise the rest of the field.

The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid into one of the three NCAA Regionals. The Southeastern Conference will host the East Regional at the Golf Club of Tennessee, while Notre Dame will host the Central Regional at Warren. Stanford will host the West Regional at the Stanford Golf Course. Each Regional will take place from Thursday, May 19, through Saturday, May 21.

If the Irish want to play on their own course, they may have to win this week. A strong spring season that included a victory at the Nokia Sugar Bowl/Tulane Invitational may propel the Irish into the Regional field if they do not defend their title, but a victory this week would take any doubt the team would have.

That’s also part of the reason Coach Kubinski wants the team to get out to a fast start. With rain, snow and wind in the forecast for the weekend, he wants his team to be ahead wire-to-wire in the event that the tournament is stopped and shortened.

“If they shorten the even from 54 holes – if you’re trailing at that point, you’re out of luck,” he said. If the tournament goes according to schedule and actually lasts the scheduled three rounds, two will be played on Saturday and one on Sunday.

Irish golfers are slotted to tee off between 8:50 and 9:30 a.m. each morning.

Notes:

u Both the men’s and women’s championships are this weekend at Warren. The Big East rotates which tournament tees off from the first tee and which tees off from the 10th. Last year, the women began on No. 1, so this year the men will.

u The Irish beat Virginia Tech by six strokes last year to win the title. The Hokies had won three consecutive Big East Titles from 2001 through 2003.

Because of their move to the ACC, this will be the first year since 2000 that the Hokies will not be competing at the Big East Championships. Incidentally, Virginia Tech placed last in this week’s ACC Championships.