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Men’s Golf: U.S. Amateur experience benefits Zhang, Santos-Ocampo

Douglas Farmer | Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Out of the 300 qualifiers for the U.S. Amateur Championships this summer, two are on the Notre Dame golf team this fall. Senior Carl Santos-Ocampo qualified for the August tournament for the second consecutive year and junior Dustin Zhang advanced past the thousands of competitors in his first try.

Santos-Ocampo nearly advanced to the final round of match-play, as he did last year, but he missed the cut-off mark by two strokes. In order to qualify for the round of 300 this year he took second in his regional on a course he knows well.

“I definitely had a huge advantage [playing on my home course in Florida],” Santos-Ocampo said. “I was comfortable with all the shots I was hitting, and I could make confident swings.”

A two-day score of 141 earned the Florida native one of three spots to the Championships, even though Santos-Ocampo was not convinced he had qualified after his rounds.

“I didn’t feel like I played well,” he said. “I knew I had played solid, and apparently that was good enough to qualify.”

Zhang took a different route to qualifying than his teammate did, playing on a course outside of Chicago he had never laid eyes on before. Zhang tallied a two-day score of 136, which placed him one stroke ahead of a tie for third place. Zhang would have found himself in a sudden death playoff if his score had been one stroke higher.

The two teammates competed against each other and the rest of the field at the U.S. Amateur Championships in Oklahoma the last week of August. Irish coach Jim Kubinski went down to watch their rounds.

“It was a great thrill to spend so much time on the practice grounds with those guys and then see them on the national stage against the best players,” Kubinski said.

By playing on the national stage against players from across the country, Santos-Ocampo and Zhang gained experience not many have.

“When you play 300 of the best players in the world, you cannot help but learn some things, adjust your game and get better,” Kubinski said.

Zhang agreed with his coach, but said the aspect of the championships that will help him most was not the competition, but rather the venues.

“After playing those really difficult courses, almost every other course I play now is easy compared to that,” Zhang said. “Those two courses were so hard, it just makes every course I play now a lot more simple.”

The team hopes the gained experience will help Santos-Ocampo and Zhang play consistently this season, as the whole team needs to play.

“We have played some very good golf at spots, and have played some not so good golf at spots,” Kubinski said of his team’s struggles last year. The Irish finished fourth in Big East competition last season.

“We need to develop some consistency and get rid of the big numbers we had at some tournaments,” Kubinski said.

The Irish begin the pursuit of consistency when six members of the team, including Santos-Ocampo, head to Minnesota for the Gopher Invitational Monday.