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Men’s Golf: Irish begin season with two tourneys

Michael Bryan | Friday, September 14, 2007

Notre Dame will kick off its fall season with a split squad this weekend, traveling to play in the Gopher and Rutgers Invitationals.

The Irish will face a tough field at the Gopher Invitational that includes top-ranked Stanford, the defending national champion. The field also includes No. 16 Lamar and strong teams from Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern and Ohio State.

Success at the Gopher Invitational has boded well for teams in the past – Minnesota won the inaugural tournament in 2005 and went on to finish third at the NCAA Championships the next spring. Stanford edged Minnesota to take last year’s Gopher Invitational en route to capturing the NCAA Championship in June.

“We’re excited to be making our third trip to the Gopher Invitational at the Spring Hill Golf Club,” coach Jim Kubinksi told und.com. “It’s a supremely-conditioned golf course that offers a great variety of shots and always has very fast and very undulating greens.”

Minnesota will host the event, which will begin with 36 holes of continuous play Saturday and conclude with the final 18 holes Sunday.

Meanwhile the Irish B Team will be in New Jersey this weekend, competing at the Rutgers Invitational Sept. 15 and 16. The tournament will feature 18 universities and consists of two rounds played Friday with the third and final round Saturday.

The Irish are coming off a strong campaign in 2006 that ended with a second-place finish at the Big East championship. Other highlights of last season included second-place finishes at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic and Triumph at Pauma Valley.

Notre Dame will do its best to continue that success despite the loss of Cole Isban and Adam Gifford to graduation. Isban, a three-time all Big-East selection, led the Irish last season in scoring average, rounds under par, and top-10 finishes. Gifford, also an all-conference selection in 2006, finished tied for fifth in the Big East championship and was third on the team in scoring average.

Josh Sandman is expected to lead the team this season. Sandman earned all-Big East honors last year after a 10th-place finish in the conference championship. Sandman had two top-10 finishes in 2006 and was second on the team with a 73.91 scoring average.

“Josh (Sandman) is poised to have a breakout season,” Kubinksi said. “He has made strides in his mental approach and has always been extremely talented, physically.”

Senior Greg Rodgers also returns and should be a big contributor. Rodgers averaged a score of 76.21 and finished the season with an 11th-place finish at the Big East championship in one of the top performances of his career.

Sophomore Doug Fortner was able to contribute to the team as a freshman last season, and his play should be key to the team’s success. Fellow sophomores Olavo Batista, Kyle Willis and Carl Santos-Ocampo will also play bigger roles this season.

“We’re obviously a very young team this season with eight of our twelve players being underclassmen,” Kubinksi said. “I like what I’ve seen thus far, we haven’t played young in qualifying. We’ve already had several scores in the 60s, including a couple of 64s.”

Freshmen Dustin Zhang, Connor Alan-Lee, Tyler Hock and Jeffrey Chen round out the Irish underclassman and will make their collegiate debuts this weekend.