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Men’s Golf: Team wins Big East without leader Usher

Conor Kelly | Friday, May 20, 2011

After a successful fall season, the Irish entered the winter and spring with a firm sense of who they were. Led by the defending Big East player of the year, the Irish golfers were a top-30 squad looking to claim a Big East championship that barely evaded them the year before.

Injuries, recalcitrant weather and inconsistent play, however, changed that picture drastically. In the end, though, the Irish are where they hoped to be — Big East champions heading into the NCAA regionals.

“Our fall season was great,” Irish coach James Kubinski said. “We were a top-30 team and playing great, but we had a really tough winter, which really hurt us going into the spring.”

With snow and cold temperatures keeping the team inside until early April, the Irish struggled with consistency early in the spring season. After not recording a finish higher than second in the fall, the team finished fifth (TPC Match Play), second (in a match play loss to Yale), 12th (Schenkel Invitational) and eighth (LSU National Invitational) in its first four tournaments.

“The early season was frustrating for us,” Kubinski said. “We really didn’t play that badly, even at Schenkel where we really imploded on the last few holes. We just couldn’t put together consistent rounds and tournaments.”

Notre Dame proceeded to take first at the Battle at the Warren at Notre Dame’s own Warren Golf Course in its final tune-up before the Big East championships.

However, the team’s struggles were exacerbated when No. 1 golfer Tom Usher broke his hand lifting weights the week before the Big East championships. The junior, despite playing through some rough stretches, was the team’s best golfer throughout the early season.

Kubinski will find out this week whether Usher will be cleared to play in the NCAA regionals.

“Losing Usher was definitely tough,” Kubinski said. “We had to have other people step up.”

Kubinski inserted Connor Alan-Lee into the line-up for the Big East tournament, and the senior rewarded his coach’s faith with a strong performance. Led by Big East individual champion Max Scodro, the Irish easily outdistanced Louisville in the final round to take home the championship.

For his efforts, Scodro, the only golfer to finish under par, was named the Big East player of the year after the tournament, making it the second year in a row that a Notre Dame golfer has received the honor.

“Scodro has been great this year, incredibly consistent,” Kubinksi said. “He’s literally only had a couple bad rounds all year. He really deserves the honor. I hope he’ll be named to the PING all-Midwest team as well.”

Scodro wasn’t the only Irish golfer to receive a postseason award. Niall Platt was named Big East freshman of the year, and the conference’s coaches voted Kubinski coach of the year.

“Platt has met my expectations, which were quite high, since the fall. He’s quite mature for his age, hasn’t come out of the lineup all year, and is one of the best putters we’ve had here in a long time,” Kubinski said. “As for me, it’s really a team award, so I’m quite grateful to the guys. The coaches really vote for it on team performance.”

The Irish are participating in the NCAA regionals this weekend in a pool of 14 teams, five of which will advance to the NCAA championships in Stillwater, Okla., beginning June 1.

“We definitely feel like we should get out of our regional. If we play well, we should be fine,” Kubinski said. “If we get into match play at the NCAA championships, I like our chances against most teams in the country. It should be a fun ride.”