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Men’s Golf: Freshman look to earn experience in Chicago

Fran Tolan | Thursday, September 21, 2006

Heading into the Gopher Invitational in Wayzata, Minn., last weekend, Irish coach Jim Kubinski said he did not know what to expect. He didn’t get exactly what he wanted as the Irish finished ninth in a 12-team field.

In light of Notre Dame’s struggles, the Irish are looking for new contributors to rescue the team’s performance from the proverbial woods – including those newest to the team.

Notre Dame’s four freshmen make up more of the squad than any other class.

Newcomers Doug Fortner, Olavo Batista Filho, Carl Santos-Ocampo and Kyle Willis were forced to compete for their roles almost as soon as they stepped onto campus. This intrasquad struggle was new to some of them.

“Ever since about sophomore year of high school, it was always a given that we’d be playing,” said Willis, from Lake Forest, Ill. “Now, there’s such a high level of play within the team.”

Despite the intense atmosphere in practices and qualifiers, the freshmen have quickly gelled with each other and the rest of the team.

“We definitely all root for each other,” Fortner said. “It’s really competitive but we are still really good friends off the course.”

The encouragement he got from his teammates may have affected him positively at the Gopher Invite. As the only freshman chosen to represent Notre Dame at the event, Fortner made a hole-in-one on his way to firing a team-best round of 71 Saturday.

“The team didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but it was a great experience for me at my first tournament,” Fortner said. “I think I showed that I fit in at this level … at least a little.”

Filho, Santos-Ocampo and Willis travel to West Chicago, Ill., to compete in a ‘B’ team event next Monday and Tuesday at DePaul’s John Dallio Memorial Tournament.

“It’s going to be nice to see how we fair in a tournament like this,” said Santos-Ocampo, of Naples, Fla., about his first official college event.

“It’s a good chance for us to get back to competition,” said Filho, who hails from Brazil but has lived in the United States for the past four years. “It should be fun.”

Kubinski had nothing but praise for the freshmen, his first-ever recruiting class at Notre Dame.

“It’s a little hard to say after just a few weeks, but they’ve been outstanding in every way,” he said. “They’ve been working very hard.”

Kubinski noted that the freshmen are guaranteed to play in at least three events, adding that he expects some – in addition to Fortner – to eventually travel with the ‘A’ team.

“There’s a potential for all of them to travel [as part of the top five],” he said. “In all likelihood, I expect two or three of them to travel before the season is over.”

Filho said that the possibility of cracking the top five has only caused the freshmen – and the rest of the team – to push each other harder.

“We know we have to practice hard,” Filho said. “Everyone has to earn his spot.”