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MEN’S GOLF: Competitive field slated for invite

Ken Fowler | Friday, April 1, 2005

Since Jim Kubinski took over as head coach on Jan. 28, the Irish have posted low scores and earned exceptional finishes.This weekend, though, the team will face its toughest test in the Augusta State Invitational, where 18 of the best squads in the country will square off in a mid-spring showdown.Ten of the nation’s top 25 teams will tee it up this weekend at Forest Hills Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., including No. 4 Georgia, No. 6 Wake Forest and No. 9 Duke.Notre Dame, entering the weekend at No. 62 in the Golfstat rankings, have earned one win and two other top-five finishes in three tournaments this spring under the tutelage of their new head coach.However, the team will be hard pressed to replicate the early-spring success they have enjoyed against this field.Among the golfers in the field for opposing teams are three of the top 15 individual golfers in the country – Ryan Blaum of Duke, Georgia’s Chris Kirk and Georgia Southern’s Aaron Price. Blaum, Kirk and Price each have a scoring average below 70. In comparison, Notre Dame’s best scoring average belongs to Cole Isban, who is ranked 117 in the country with a 71.71 average.According to the Invitational’s official website, 31 of the country’s top 100 individual golfers will be competing. Isban and his teammates will have to play their best if they want to stay competitive on Sunday.But history is not on Notre Dame’s side.Last year, Minnesota won the tournament going away. The Golden Gophers outpaced Duke and UCLA by five and six strokes, respectively. No other team finished within 10 shots of the winners.The Irish ended last year’s tournament in a tie for fourteenth with Georgia Southern and Toledo at 892 (+28). That was thirty-one strokes behind Minnesota’s winning score. This year, the team hopes to at least have a fighting chance come the final round.The competition is not the only factor that is working against the Irish, though. The course, itself, also offers a significant challenge for Notre Dame.While the Irish’s home course of Warren consists almost entirely of bent grass on the fairways and greens, as is customary for northern courses, Forest Hills is 100-percent Bermuda.Reading the greens well on the different surface will be pivotal for the Irish, as the 7,231-yard, par-72 course punishes poor drives with lengthy second shots to heavily contoured greens.The forecast for Saturday’s initial 36 holes calls for clouds and strong winds, which should bring scores up from their low levels last year. Sunday is set to be warm and sunny with a light breeze for the tournament’s final round.This is Notre Dame’s penultimate team tournament before hosting the Big East Championship Apr. 23-24.