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Men’s Golf: Irish wait to see where they’ll go

Joe Quinn | Tuesday, May 2, 2006

For the third straight year, Notre Dame won’t have to worry about being on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, as the team secured an automatic berth to one of three regionals with a come-from-behind victory in the Big East championship.

Now all the Irish can do is wait and see where the selection committee sends them.

Notre Dame’s most likely destination is the Central Regional, which is scheduled for May 18-20 in Chardon, Ohio. If the Irish aren’t selected for the Central Regional, they will travel to either the East Regional in Orlando, Fla. or the West Regional in Tucson, Ariz. For Notre Dame coach Jim Kubinski, it’s not where the Irish play, it’s how they play.

“We had some stretches were we didn’t play our A-game,” Kubinski said. “I think we finally were able to play our best golf in the Big East championship, and hopefully we can keep that going.”

If the Irish hope to continue their hot streak, they will most likely need continued stellar play from both freshman Josh Sandman and senior tri-captain Mark Baldwin. Baldwin was one of four Notre Dame golfers that shot under par in the final round of the Big East championship. Sandman was the overtime hero – sinking a birdie to give the Irish a two-stroke cushion.

“Mark had an excellent [Big East] tournament, and Josh has been just outstanding the past month or so,” Kubinski said. “I’m really confident that both these guys can keep playing at the level they’ve been playing at, and if they can do that, we’ll be in good shape.”

Fortunately for Baldwin and Sandman, the burden of reaching the NCAA finals for the first time since 1966 does not rest squarely on their shoulders. Senior Scott Gustafson and junior Cole Isban have also taken much of the responsibility upon themselves.

“Cole, along with Josh was the most outstanding golfer over the past month,” Kubinski said. “The fact that he was overshadowed by Mark [in the Big East championship] just proves how well Mark was able to play. If he plays like I know he can play, Cole will be right up [at the top of the leader board] when all is said and done,” Kubinski said. Gustafson struggled at times this year, but according to Kubinski, he has started to come around over the past month.

“Scott has really been playing well,” Kubinski said. “He had some trouble, but he’s been striking the ball extremely well and I don’t doubt that he won’t be playing his A-game come May 18.”

If Kubinski can get all his players to play up to their ability, he feels they have a good shot of advancing. At the same time, however, he knows it will not be easy as the Irish will face their toughest competition of the season.

“In the NCAAs, it’s really the best of the best,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge to advance, but right now I think we’re playing as well as anyone in the country.”

Fresh off their Big East comeback victory over Louisville, the Irish were named Golfweek National Team of the Week. But Kubinski emphasized the award meant nothing once the Irish stepped onto the course.

“We’re very honored to be recognized like that, but at the same time, we still have to go out and play,” Kubinski said. “They’re not going to give us the finals birth just because we were named Golfweek Team of the Week. We just have to go out and compete against – and hopefully beat – the best teams in the country.”