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When John Handrigan first arrived at Notre Dame two years ago, he knew he had his work cut out for him. Never mind that the Fighting Irish hadn’t qualified for a regional since 2012, or an NCAA Championship since 1966.
The program had bigger issues.
“The culture was not where it needed to be for us to be an elite college golf program,” said Handrigan, who arrived in South Bend in July 2017 from Florida, where he was the nation’s top assistant two seasons prior. “There just wasn’t the dedication and commitment and work ethic.
“It was almost a club team type of atmosphere.”
Three seasons later, much has changed at Notre Dame. The Irish became the first men’s team to three wins on Tuesday by winning its home event, the Fighting Irish Invitational, by a shot over North Carolina. (BYU later won its third team title, though two of its wins have been co-victories.)
It is the first time since the 1999-2000 season that Notre Dame has won three times in one season – and it took them just four tournaments. When the first official Golfstat rankings are released on Oct. 17, the Irish figure to be somewhere around the top 10.
“We’ve been building up toward this for the last few years,” Handrigan said. “We saw it coming, but not quite to this level, to be honest. Winning three events in the fall season in college golf is extremely difficult. It’s hard to even dream of something this special, but I’m obviously very proud of the guys.
“[Assistant] coach [Scott] Gump and I have pushed them extremely hard the last two and a half years, and they’ve been resilient and accepted what we’ve wanted to work on and really shined through.”
The progress has been steady. For the first year and a half, Handrigan focused little on results and more on culture. Notre Dame missed out on regionals via a tiebreaker to Jacksonville in Year 1, and last season the Irish fell only a handful of ranking spots shy of the postseason.
But despite an 11th-place showing at the ACC Championship last spring, Handrigan could sense his team nearing a breakthrough. That feeling heightened during the summer as several players collected hardware. Senior Hunter Ostrom won the Southwestern Amateur. Fellow senior Davis Lamb grabbed the Maryland Open. Sophomore Andrew O’Leary captured the Rhode Island Amateur. And incoming freshman Palmer Jackson advanced all the way to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst.
That hot play carried over to the fall. Notre Dame opened its season with a 14-shot victory over Kansas at the Badger Invitational before clipping Ole Miss by five shots at the Windon Memorial. Even a third-place finish at the Inverness Intercollegiate came ahead of perennial powers such as LSU and Auburn.
Tuesday’s victory at Warren Golf Course was arguably the Irish’s biggest yet as they finished 27 shots better than Arizona State, considered by many to be the early-season favorite to win it all. Junior Davis Chatfield led the way with a T-4, his second top-10 of the season, while Jackson’s T-7 was his third finish of T-11 or better. Ostrom, who leads the team with three top-10s, had by far his worst performance, a T-29, and Notre Dame still was 19 shots better than Iowa, 30 better than Iowa State and 32 better than Mississippi State.
But Handrigan knows there’s still much to improve on if Notre Dame is to produce similar results come late spring.
“We have really high expectations here,” Handrigan said. “That’s one of the things that was a draw for me to come here. They weren’t willing to accept being a mid-major golf program, and they provided everything that we needed to be successful, and we worked our tails off as a team, the individual players and recruiting to build that up, and now we can be recognized as one of those top programs. I’m not saying we’re yet, in that elite status, but we’re building toward that.
“We feel like if we play our best golf, we’re going to be tough to beat no matter who we play.”
1. SMU built on its season-opening runner-up finish at Trinity Forest by capturing the Maridoe Invitational. The Mustangs shot 18 over around the ultra-difficult layout to win by 24 shots over Texas A&M and San Francisco. Junior Noah Goodwin, a No. 1 recruit who arrived on campus two springs ago, picked up his first individual title as a Mustang, opening with a 4-under 68 before finishing the 54-hole event as the only individual under par, at 1 under, three clear of Washington’s Bo Peng.
2. BYU and Colorado State shared the team title at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate, beating the likes of Auburn (third), Arkansas (seventh) and host Alabama (ninth). But it wasn’t exactly a spectacular finish. Colorado State’s counting players played the final two holes at Old Overton in 9 over while BYU did so in 3 over, as both teams finished 17 under for the event. Still, the co-wins continue strong falls for these two programs. The Cougars have now started the year T-1 (playoff loss), first, T-1, and have an early Haskins Award candidate in senior Peter Kuest, who tied for fourth at the Jerry Pate to go along with wins in each of his first two events (he lost in a playoff last week at the Nick Watney, but the NCAA official record book doesn’t recognize playoffs in regular-season play.) The Rams, who nearly qualified for their first NCAA Championship since 2011 last season, have now won back-to-back events and on Tuesday they boasted the individual medalist, junior Parathakorn Suyasri, who won his first college title by shooting 11 under and topping Minnesota’s Angus Flanagan by a shot.
3. Kent State’s women remained unbeaten Tuesday, winning their third straight tournament to begin the fall. The Golden Flashes shot 11 under to edge a charging Ole Miss team at the Illini Invitational at Medinah. The Rebels jumped six spots with a 13-under final round, but it wasn’t enough to overtake Kent State, which is doing just fine without former coach Greg Robertson, who accepted the head-coaching position at Oklahoma State over the summer.
4. Duke, Clemson, Florida State and host Ohio State competed in the Jack Nicklaus Invitational, a match-play event at Muirfield Village, and it was the Tigers topping Duke in the final match, 3-2-1, with Turk Petit earning the clinching point. Florida State’s John Pak, who went 3-0 at this summer’s Walker Cup, lost each of his three matches, though the Seminoles were able to edge Ohio State for third place.
5. LSU’s annual dominant performance at its own David Toms Intercollegiate reached new heights on Sunday. The Tigers shot 63 under as a team in 54 holes, their 801 total nearly dropping into the 700s, and shattered the previous program record of 41-under 811. Trey Winstead and Hayden White shared medalist honors at 17 under. “The conditions were nice and there was basically no wind this weekend,” said LSU head coach Chuck Winstead, “but you still have to hit the shots.”
Tweet of the week
Who said golfers weren’t athletes? This 45-yard field goal by Georgia Southern senior Luukas Alakulppi is unreal.
Purdue hosts a strong field at Crooked Stick beginning Tuesday while women's slate is highlighted by a trio of elite weekend events – North Carolina's Ruth Chris Tar Heel Invite, the Stanford Invitational and Texas' Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational.