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Friday, Feb. 23, 2024
The Observer

Kolakowski: Underclassmen have sparked Irish in opening weeks

At their first tournament of the year, the Badger Invitational, freshman Taichi Kho led the Notre Dame in scoring with a 217 over 54 holes.

Last weekend at the Northern Intercollegiate, junior Hunter Ostrom led the Irish, and the field, turning in a 210 for the event.

This week at the Old Town Club Collegiate Invitational, sophomore Davis Chatfield is currently leading Irish after two rounds consisting alongside Ostrom, junior Davis Lamb, freshman Andrew O’Leary and Miguel Delgado, the lone senior of the crew this week. Junior John Felitto is competing with the Irish as an individual.

Seniors have struggled to keep up with the younger members of the team, many were passed on the depth chart as early as team qualifying rounds. Luckily for the Irish, this strong showing by the underclassmen paced them through their first three tournaments, where they currently sit in fifth place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 

Delgado is the only senior to compete with the Irish five-man team in every competition so far this season. After senior Kevin Conners carded a 227, good for 44th in the Individual class at the Northern Intercollegiate, he is not traveling with the team to the Old Town Club.

Senior Ben Albin has yet to see the course for official competition this season.

Irish head coach Scott Handrigan said the senior trio has contributed great experience to the program.

“Those three seniors are now our captains this year, and we’re going to be relying on them to provide leadership and help our younger players,” Handrigan said.

O’Leary, the only freshman to travel to every tournament so far, has averaged 73.83 strokes per round after six rounds of competition. Pair that with Kho’s team-leading performance at the Badger Invitational, and the Irish freshmen have been impressive to this point.

Chatfield, the 4th place finisher at last week’s Northern Intercollegiate, is averaging 73.16 strokes per round through six rounds. The sophomore is building off a stellar freshman year in which he averaged 72.75 strokes per round, the 9th-lowest average in Notre Dame history.

While the seniors, with the exception of Delgado, have struggled to find consistency on the course, some of the young guns have continued to produce quality rounds for the Irish. The success of young players is a sign of progress under Handrigan.

In order for the Irish golf program to continue building on its recent success, the culture has to be focused on competing every day, both in practice rounds and in tournaments. That culture shift began last year in Handrigan’s first season as coach, and it is gaining strength as his young players take control of the team. 

“We believe in making sure our players get better every single day,” Handrigan said.

Young players like Chatfield and Delgado appear as though they are committed to Handrigan’s philosophy of getting better every day, and that is a sign of good things to come for the Irish.