The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Irish set to make title run at Big East Champs

Michael Blasco | Friday, April 17, 2009

The Irish have been unable to put together a solid string of rounds over the past month, resulting in three straight disappointing finishes outside the top 10. And Notre Dame coach Jim Kubinski knows that will be the key at this weekend’s Big East Championship tournament if his team plans on snagging a top finish.

“We don’t need the spectacular. We need only a focused and consistent effort,” he said.

The Irish will need to put all the pieces together if they are going to mount a serious charge at the Big East Championships at Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club in Dade City, Fla. Notre Dame captured its last Big East Championship in 2006 under Kubinski. That year, the tournament was also held at the Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club.

“Lake Jovita was ‘our place’ the last time we competed there in winning the [2006 Big East Championship],” Kubinski said. “We have great, great memories of doing something rarely done. We came from 12 shots back on the last day to beat Louisville after firing 16-under that day. We’ll have positive vibes.”

The Irish have struggled in recent events, including back-to-back 10th place finishes at the FAU Spring Break Championship and the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate tournament.

While individual golfers have excelled, a complete team effort has been lacking for the Irish since they grabbed top-five finishes at a pair of events over Spring Break.

“From one to five we’re as good or better than every team in our conference,” Kubinski said. “It’s just a matter of playing solidly over 54 holes. The team understands that.”

The lack of consistency can be chalked to up to an extraordinarily young line-up, featuring no seniors and only one junior, Doug Fortner, who has seen regular action his entire collegiate career.

“We’ve gained a lot of experience this season,” Kubinski said. “If you look at our roster, just about every player other than [Fortner] either played their first event as a college player or doubled or tripled what they had played previously.”

Despite their youth, leaders have emerged in the ranks of underclassmen. Freshman Max Scodro has played in five tournaments this spring with a solid 76.29 scoring average, including an eighth-place finish at the Caputo Invitational. Sophomore Jeff Chen has also matured into a strong leader, carrying a team-best 74.67 scoring average.

“I saw [Chen’s] confidence grow with each event,” Kubinski said. “He now knows he can compete at this level. I’ve really appreciated his approach and his consistency. Even when he doesn’t have his golf swing where he’d like it, he doesn’t panic. He just goes out with what he has and competes.”

The 7,153-yard, par 72 Lake Jovita course will be the setting for the Big East Championships, which begin Sunday morning and conclude Tuesday evening. The Irish hope to duplicate their success from the last time they played on this course.

“Lake Jovita is a good test,” Kubinski said. “There are some very good holes but a player can make some birdies if he hits the shots. I like what we’re bringing to the event from one to five in our lineup.”

Still, Kubinski understands that nothing can be taken for granted, especially considering Notre Dame’s struggles this spring.

“The guys know this is it,” Kubinski said. “They know what’s at stake and how an entire season of work comes down to this. We don’t see it as pressure, though. We see it as opportunity.”