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Men’s Golf: Frosh foursome hits the Irish links

Greg Arbogast | Saturday, August 19, 2006

Fore is a dirty word in golf. But the sound should be very nice to Notre Dame this year.

In the case of the men’s golf team, four is the number of incoming freshmen expected to bolster the lineup of an already very impressive Irish squad.

Incoming freshmen Doug Fortner (Tustin, Calif./Foothill H.S.) and Kyle Willis (Lake Forest, Ill/Lake Forest HS) signed letters of intent last fall, and Olavo Batista Filho (Sao Paulo, Brazil/Chapel HS) and Carl Santos-Ocampo (Naples, Fla./Community School of Naples) joined the team in July.

The foursome is the first full recruiting class under Irish coach Jim Kubinski.

“I’m very excited about it,” Kubinski said. “They’re a very talented group of players.”

All four incoming freshmen have resumes with high school experience and time on the main junior tours – three on the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA).

Fortner leads the group with a 73.11 stroke average on the AJGA tour in 2006. He has also been as high as No. 43 on the Golfweek/Titleist rankings for junior golfers. He currently stands at No. 48.

Santos-Ocampo has 13 career top-25 finishes on the AJGA tour and has a 74.43 stroke average in 2006. Willis isn’t far behind, with a 76.14 stroke average this year.

“[The AJGA] is the best predictor we have to predicting if success in high school will translate to success in college,” Kubinski said. “One reason is because the courses they play on the junior tours are so difficult. They’re very comparable to college courses as they have long holes, thick rough, and difficult pin placements.”

Batista Filho doesn’t have a 2006 AJGA stroke average because he has played in Brazil. Batista Filho finished second in the New York state tournament his sophomore year, then moved back to Brazil to finish his high school education.

Kubinski expects that Batista Filho will need some time to adjust to playing in America again.

“The fall season will be an acclamation period [for him],” Kubinski said. “I think he’ll become more competitive in the spring and the rest of his career here.”

While all four freshmen have enjoyed success on the links, they have succeeded in other areas as well. Both Batista Filho and Santos-Ocampo were members of the National Honor Society at their respective high schools. Santos-Ocampo also received the prestigious AJGA Bob Carter Sportsmanship Award for his play on the junior tour.

“Character was maybe the single biggest factor for this recruiting class,” Kubinski said. “While these guys may come from all over the U.S. – and outside it – all four guys are in the same mold regarding character and work ethic. They all approach the game the right way.”

That approach will be important as the team is in the midst of a resurgence.

In the 2004-05 season, Notre Dame posted a school-record team-stroke average of 292.77. The Irish also won their third consecutive Big East title and competed in their third consecutive NCAA regional tournament. Notre Dame rose as high as No. 12 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index ratings.

If last season was any indication of how Notre Dame freshmen typically perform, Kubinski has nothing to worry about. Sophomore Josh Sandman was one of the team’s key players late in the 2005-06 season, posting scores of 70 and 71 to help the Irish win the Big East championship.

“You don’t usually see freshmen make a huge contribution, but Sandman exceeded our expectations,” Kubinski said. “This year’s class is very talented, though, and I think you could see two, three, or even all four in the starting lineup at some point this season.”