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Golf: Program receives high marks from Golf Digest

Bill Brink | Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Notre Dame golf program received a vote of confidence before the start of the fall season.

The September issue of Golf Digest ranked the men’s team No. 9 and the women’s team No. 11 in a poll of top U.S. collegiate golf programs.

The poll awarded rankings in three categories: golf, academics and a combination of both, the last known as the “balanced rankings.”

The balanced category also took into account the facilities, coaches, climate, player growth, team adjusted scoring average and academics, and it was here that the Irish earned the highest rankings. The rankings were compiled from surveys sent to college coaches around the nation.

“We weren’t even mentioned last year, at least in the top 50,” women’s head coach Susan Holt said. “For us to go from there to where we appeared in this year’s edition is certainly a testament I think, more than anything, to the quality of recruits that we’ve got coming into the program and our facilities.”

The men’s team was No. 14 in the academic rankings and No. 35 in the golf-only category. The women were No. 10 in the academic rankings and No. 21 in the golf-only section.

The South Bend climate, inhospitable to golfers for much of the year, dropped Notre Dame’s rankings slightly, but men’s coach Jim Kubinski said even that was becoming less of an obstacle.

“This year we have two kids from California and one from Florida, so we’re getting kids from all sorts of weather climates that maybe we didn’t have in the past,” he said.

Both Holt and Kubinski said the highly ranked Warren Golf Course – designed in part by two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw – and the state-of-the-art Rolfs indoor practice facility contributed significantly to the high rankings. Both also cited the increased funding available since 2000, when golf became a full scholarship sport.

Nothing gets the attention of recruits like success, however.

“We’ve had a number of good wins, the last couple years especially, and I think recruits are starting to take notice,” Kubinski said.

Holt believed the poll to be an accurate representation of the program. Kubinski agreed, but said the team adjusted scoring average was poorly calculated.

“When you play a very difficult golf course like Purdue or Ohio State and you play it in 30-degree weather, that’s different from playing an easy course in 80-degree weather,” Kubinski said. “So your scores are affected. That put us down. There were some schools in there that we’re much better than that were ranked right there with us.”

Recruiting takes off

Whether it’s the facilities or the results, recruits have noticed. The two incoming freshmen on the women’s team, So-Hyun Park from Seoul, South Korea and Katie Conway from Wading River, N.J., make up the highest-ranked recruiting class – for the men or women – Notre Dame golf has ever seen.

“We’re expecting them to be in the top five from day one. So-Hyun is ranked in the top 20 [nationally], Katie’s ranked in the top 40,” Holt said. “We have two verbal commitments already for 2008, so we’re excited about where we’re heading.”

The women lost a playoff against Louisville in last spring’s Big East tournament after tying them in regulation. With three of their four all-conference players returning, they should be in good shape for the fall season.

“[Sophomore] Annie Brophy had a breakout spring. She really stepped up,” Holt said. “I’d like to see her pick up where she left off. [Junior Lisa Maunu’s] a really experienced player, but last year she had some setbacks and some injuries, so that was really frustrating for her.”

Maunu rebounded from injuries suffered last season to compete on the Canadian national team and travel overseas to play this summer.

The men, who also finished second behind Louisville in last year’s Big East tournament, have a strong freshmen class as well. Dustin Zhang from Calgary, Alberta, Tyler Hock from Ocala, Fla., Jeffery Chen from Walnut, Calif., and Connor Alan-Lee from Solana Beach, Calif., may all crack the starting lineup at some point in the season.

“In the three, four and five [lineup] spots, we weren’t getting a number of good scores. We were very inconsistent,” Kubinski said. “This year, having another four players to draw from, I think we’re going to be a much more consistent team from [spots] one through five in the lineup instead of just being top-heavy.”

Kubinski mentioned senior Greg Rodgers, who shot a 69 in the final round of the Big East hampionship last year, as a breakout candidate. After a good freshman fall, junior Josh Sandman missed his freshman spring due to injury and had a bit of a slump last year.

“He played well, but he didn’t play well for Josh,” Kubinski said. “I think this will be a real bounce-back year. He could be in contention for All-American status if he plays to his abilities.”