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Jackson, Stevens shine amidst disappointing season for Irish men’s golf

| Friday, May 19, 2023

Sofia CrimiVaroli |The Observer
Senior Palmer Jackson competes at the Fighting Irish Classic on Sept. 4

Golf, by nature, is an individual sport. Each golfer is in control of what they do, with none of their teammates there to help him (at least tangibly) and no opposition to stop him. That makes for an interesting dichotomy when looking back on the 2022-23 Notre Dame men’s golf season. If the goal was to have strong individual performances, it’s hard to argue with sending two golfers to NCAA Regionals. That honor was bestowed upon both Irish senior Palmer Jackson and freshman Nate Stevens, who will represent the program in the Michigan State Regional from May 15-17.

“It just shows you that we have firepower,” head coach John Handrigan said.

Jackson has displayed firepower throughout his outstanding collegiate career. He was named to the All-ACC team in 2022 and the 2021 Ping D1 All-Region Team. Jackson was also nominated for the 2020 Phil Mickelson Award, given to college golf’s top freshman of the year. He was consistently near the top of leaderboards again in 2022-23, including a top-20 finish at the ACC Championships.

Stevens also showed impressive promise in his first collegiate season. He paced Irish golfers with a top-25 finish at the Augusta Haskins Award Invite and even shot a 64 in one round.

However, Handrigan’s next words after that quote were more telling for how this season of Irish men’s golf will be remembered.

“We just weren’t as consistent as we need to be to be successful at the ACC level,” he said.

The individual accomplishments for both golfers are certainly worth celebrating, both on an individual and a team-wide level. The Irish also have some other great returning talent who had some great showings throughout the season, such as sophomore Owen Mullen and junior Angelo Marcon. But as a team, the season that was for the Irish was not the one they were hoping for.

“Definitely wasn’t our year,” Handrigan said. “Golf is hard, life is hard sometimes and we learned a lot of lessons this year.”

Later, he called the 2022-23 season “probably the worst year of golf that we could have as a team.”

After a solid start to the season — a fourth-place finish at the Fighting Irish Classic on their home course — the Irish failed to place higher in any of their 10 competitions the rest of the way. They only cracked the top five on two other occasions. In six events in 2023, the Irish never finished better than tied for sixth. Despite the adversity, Handrigan is proud with how the team dealt with it.

“I’m just proud of how the team handled difficult situations throughout the entire year. They represented Notre Dame the best way they could,” Handrigan said. “To be honest with you, with the guys that we have, we have a great group of players, they’re very talented and unfortunately, golf is hard. Sometimes we didn’t perform the way we wanted, but how they handled it was great.”

The Irish will look to improve next year, although they’ll be losing seniors Jackson and Patrick Kelly, as well as graduate student Andrew O’Leary. Losing them certainly won’t make bouncing back any easier for the Irish, who had made the NCAA Regionals each of the prior two seasons.

“You never replace guys like that,” Handrigan said. “These are just such high-character people, and I love them and for what they’ve done to the program.”

Despite that, Handrigan remains optimistic for the team’s outlook going forward. If 2022-23 was the worst possible outcome for the team, that means better days are ahead. And they may not be too far away.

We’ve got a good group of guys coming in, a great group of freshmen that we’re really excited about,” Handrigan said. “And it’s going to be a different culture, and it’s one that we’re excited for as well because we’ve got some great guys coming in that are top-ranked players. I know they’re going to contribute to our team and get our program where it needs to be. This year it wasn’t there, but we got guys next year that are going to do that and the guys that are leaving, they’re great young men.”

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a rising senior in Siegfried Hall and Sports Editor of The Observer. He is from Haddonfield, New Jersey, a short drive away from Philadelphia. Naturally, he loves all of his Philly sports teams, even if they don't always love him back (although that may just be changing). Feel free to reach out below or on Twitter (@_AndrewMcG) to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Stranger Things, Survivor or/and Ted Lasso.

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