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SMC Golf: Nation’s best to test Belles this weekend

Allan Joseph | Friday, April 16, 2010

The biggest tournament of the spring season to date arrives this weekend for the No. 5 Belles, who travel to Normal, Ill., to compete in the Illinois Wesleyan Spring Fling Invitational.

The tournament will be hotly contested, with a large number of high-quality teams in attendance at a competition that could play a large role in the Belles’ postseason hopes and performance.

“It’s an important tournament for us,” Belles coach Mark Hamilton said. “It’s a good showcase event for the Midwest — five of the top 12 teams in the country will be there.”

Not only will Saint Mary’s use the tournament as a measuring stick for its progress against the nation’s best, but the results of the tournament could also have a direct effect on the Belles’ postseason. If Saint Mary’s does not qualify for the national championships through the MIAA qualifier, its performance in this tournament could determine whether they receive an at-large bid. And if they earn the MIAA bid, this tournament will affect the Belles’ seeding during the NCAA championships.

The tournament will be contested at Ironwood Golf Club, a straightforward open course known for allowing low scores. Its length will be the largest obstacle for golfers, and the fairways are open enough that a wayward drive may still be playable — in essence, a course layout that favors the Belles, Hamilton said.

“Some of our players hit the ball longer than some of the opposing teams which means sometimes it’s a little more crooked,” he said. “This golf course is pretty wide open and benign. I feel it’ll lend itself to our game.”

The back nine is more difficult than the front nine, which could make for an interesting tournament dynamic, with late-round challenges possible. Low scores, however, are there for the taking, making it likely that the winner of this tournament is the team that has the best two days with the putter on the slow, relatively flat greens, Hamilton said.

“It’s usually a shootout at this tournament,” Hamilton said. “It comes down to whoever can putt the best, because scores tend to be low.”