NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- For the first time in 38 years, the Notre Dame men's golf team is headed to the NCAA Championship. The Irish booked their spot in the national tournament with a six-stroke victory at the 2004 Big East Conference Championship, which concluded Sunday afternoon at the Warren Golf Course in South Bend. Notre Dame trailed three-time defending league champion Virginia Tech by five strokes coming into Sunday's third round, and was four shots behind at the turn, but outscored the Hokies by 10 strokes over the final nine holes to claim its fourth Big East title and first since 1997.
The Irish finished the three-round event at 36-over par 876 (290-295-291), with the first and third-round scores serving as two of the top three single-round marks in the tournament. Notre Dame's 54-hole mark of 876 also was its lowest total of the spring, second-lowest tally of the 2003-04 season, and the ninth-lowest figure in school history.
Three Irish golfers earned all-conference honors this year, led by sophomore Tommy Balderston (Boca Raton, Fla./St. Andrews HS), who garnered his second all-Big East award after tying for third place at eight-over par 218 (74-73-71). Balderston's final-round 71 matched the lowest score by any player in the field on Sunday and his 54-hole score of 218 equalled his best mark of the spring season. Meanwhile, freshman Cole Isban (South Bend, Ind./Mishawaka Marian HS) continued his impressive rookie campaign, tying Balderston for third at eight-over 218 (69-75-74), also his lowest tournament score of the spring.
Sophomore Eric Deutsch (Rochester, Minn./Lourdes HS) was the third all-Big East choice for Notre Dame, saving his best performance of the spring season for this weekend. Deutsch picked up his first all-conference plaque after tying for fifth place at nine-over par 219 (74-71-74), a full 13 strokes better than his previous low score in the spring. Sophomore Mark Baldwin (Laconia, N.H./New Hampton Prep) nearly received his second all-Big East citation in as many years, finishing just out of the top seven in an eighth-place tie at 13-over par 223 (74-76-73). Sophomore Scott Gustafson (Eden Prairie, Minn./Eden Prairie HS) rounded out the Irish lineup in 11th place at 14-over par 224 (73-78-73).
Notre Dame will play one final regular-season tournament next weekend when it competes in the Bruce Fossum/TaylorMade Invitational May 1-2 in East Lansing, Mich., at the Forest Akers West Golf Course. The Irish then are expected to be assigned to the NCAA Central Regional, which will be held May 20-22 in West Lafayette, Ind., on the Kampen Course at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex.