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Men’s Golf: Home sweet home

Eric Prister | Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Notre Dame was able to grab first place team honors as well as the top individual spot in the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic, as fifth-year senior Josh Sandman led the Irish to victory in their sole home match of the year.

“I’m just so happy for our kids,” Irish coach Jim Kubinski said. “They’ve had a tough year or two. They’ve taken their lumps but they never ever quit working hard. They never lost faith and they always believed in themselves. I didn’t know when it would happen, but I knew it would happen at some point. It just was great to do it at home. The kids worked so hard over the last couple years, and no one really noticed because we didn’t have the results but they were working hard and they never lost faith. It was really special today.”

The Irish shot 30-over as a team for a score of 870 to beat out Ohio State (+34/874), Arkansas (+38/878), Texas Arlington (+43/883) and Lamar (+44/884).

Sandman paced the Irish and claimed his first collegiate individual title, shooting two-over par through the three-round tournament. His opening round 70 and second round 68 gave him the lead going into Tuesday, and despite starting plus-five on the first five holes during his last round, Sandman was able to shoot one-under over the last 13 to claim victory.

“He’s just been so close so many times,” Kubinski said. “The maturity and the leadership to play the last 13 holes at one-under was just beautiful. I’m just so happy for him because I think it can take him to another level now. He doesn’t have to wonder if he can win, because he has.”

Sophomore Max Scodro was Notre Dame’s second-highest finisher, placing in a tie for 10th after a final-round 70.

“To shoot 70 out there and just play the way he did as it got windier was incredible,” Kubinski said. “I was just thrilled to see that play and it really just came together at the end.”

Also scoring on the day for the Irish was junior Connor Alan-Lee, who after shooting an opening round 80 bounced back and recorded a 72, Notre Dame’s second-best score on the last eighteen holes.

“[Alan-Lee] shot 80 in the first round, and it’s so easy to give up at that point,” Kubinski said. “But you talk about that Notre Dame fighting spirit and refusing to give up. He came back with 73 and 72. That’s probably as good as anyone can shoot out there in tough conditions.”

Notre Dame’s fourth score in the last round came from sophomore Chris Walker, whose 74 put him at 12-over par on the tournament, good enough for a tie for 24th place. Junior Jeff Chen also competed individually for the Irish, and his three-round 13-over par put him in a tie for 28th place.

The Irish finished 15th last year in their home match, but the home-course advantage helped Notre Dame to their first tournament victory this season, aided by the work put in by the players in the days leading up to the Fighting Irish Classic.

“The guys really did an excellent job preparing this week,” Kubinski said. “They were out there taking notes of the slopes of the greens and hitting extra chips and putts after classes. They put all the work in, so I think we definitely had an advantage and it gave us that little lift.”

The first-place finish gives the Irish momentum as they continue moving towards their goal of an NCAA tournament appearance, but the celebration cannot last long as they travel to La Quinta, Calf. to compete in The Presitge at the PGA West, a three-day tournament which begins Oct. 11.

“We’re in great shape so far for the NCAA’s, and our ranking will shoot up,” Kubinski said. “I think we’ve got a really good test this coming week. We’d like to be able to enjoy this for while, but we have to bounce back quickly. We can’t enjoy this for too long because [the field at The Prestige] is so good. We hope to go out there and have a chance to win.”