Freshman Liam Cox made his first career start at the Gopher Invitational last weekend
Sept. 10, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The University of Notre Dame men's golf team was one of only three teams at this past weekend's University of Minnesota Gopher Invitational in Independence, Minn., to have multiple players finish in the tournament's top 10. In fact, senior captain Niall Platt and freshman Matt Rushton, who tied one another for sixth place after a three-round score of 210 (-3), were the only teammates to both post a ninth-place or better finish in the 12-team, 64-player field.
Notre Dame head coach Jim Kubinski was full of praise for both his trusted veteran and one of the program's up and coming players for helping lead the team to a seventh-place result during its first tournament of the 2013-14 season.
"When coaches actually come seek you out to compliment your players, that doesn't happen too often," Kubinski said. "To have one opposing coach really say Niall was the best (putter in college golf) was really good. Matt came in as a freshman with great experience playing worldwide basically on every continent that they have golf. But you get to school with all that's thrown at you, planning your classes, getting your books, figuring out where workouts are, all those types of things."
The mental toughness and golf skill that Rushton (67-73-70-210), a native of Cape Town, South Africa, displayed during his first collegiate start nearly gave him a win during his Notre Dame debut.
Kubinski said that Rushton, along with classmates Liam Cox and Blake Barens, were on similar paths entering the tournament qualifying process, which is where Rushton showed flashes of what ultimately led to his successful opening week finish.
"In terms of form, recent play, I think Matt would have had a small edge, but quite honestly Liam finished that final day with a charging 68 to catch Patrick Grahek and Tyler Wingo to earn his spot," Kubinski said. "Blake played solidly throughout qualifying with a 72 or so average, so there was not much separation between the three going into the tournament."
Sophomore Cory Sciupider, Notre Dame's top finisher (third) at last season's BIG EAST Championship, was the middle player of the five on the final leaderboard in 43rd place. Kubinski felt Sciupider might have been pressing to offset a slow start, and never really found his game during the two-day event.
"If Cory shoots a normal score for him which I think is a 72 or 73 each round, never mind going par or below, we are a top three or four team in that tournament," Kubinski said. "It's a huge difference to have those three or four shots per round per tournament. I think Cory will bring his game the next time out, he has so much talent and hit so many good shots, he's going to be a heck of a player."
The Gopher Invitational was held for the first time at the par-71, 7,000 plus yard Windsong Farm Golf Club, leaving its longtime location at the Spring Hill Golf Club. With a field that included top-ranked California and talented entries in tournament champion New Mexico and Baylor, Kubinski felt that Notre Dame players made quick adjustments to stay competitive on the new layout.
"In terms of the course, on a scale of one to 10 with five being the average college course setup, this was probably a seven or eight," Kubinski said. "What it is really is a good, strong golf course from tee to green. The greens weren't too scary in undulation, but the hole locations were on what edges they had with some good speed to them. Our guys went into it playing well, and I think they were comfortable throughout.
"Even the guys who were struggling, it wasn't the golf course. Some of the things they need experience with, all three underclassmen who were there, they picked up this week and learned some lessons."
The Irish are now idle until the eighth annual Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic, which will be held on Sept. 23-24 at the Warren Golf Course. Last season, Kubinski felt that his team pressed coming off playing the weekend before its home tournament at the difficult Course at Yale (New Haven, Conn.), and said that the extra layoff in between events this season will benefit the team moving forward.
"I think this past weekend was a real eye-opening experience for all of the young players, having four underclassmen in the starting lineup, it sent a message to the team that this is going to be a competitive team," Kubinski said. "We had two guys who played in the U.S. Amateur (Andrew Lane and Tyler Wingo) this summer who weren't even in our lineup, so it set a competitive tone. Now having a weekend to do some qualifying and compete, and then the whole preparation week where we can really be ready for our home tournament without feeling like we're running into it again, the schedule starts out well for us.
"I can't stress enough to our team that it's not really their course management, our guys do prepare well and we have good meetings off the course, but in terms of handling their emotions when things aren't going as well, they really grew up a lot this week."