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Friday, Feb. 23, 2024
The Observer

Delgado, others find individual success amid ‘disappointing’ season

While Notre Dame fell short of their team goal this past season, the Irish were able find a silver lining. In just his second season at the helm for the Irish, head coach John Handrigan sent senior captain Miguel Delgado to the NCAA Championship, the first time an Irish golfer went in five years. The Irish competed in 10 total tournaments between the fall and spring seasons and were able to record six top-five finishes out of the 10. Despite these results, Handrigan believes that his team is capable of much more.

“To be honest we’ve got pretty high standards here at Notre Dame and Notre Dame golf, and for our team not to make the national tournament as a team is pretty disappointing and not something that we’re going to accept going forward,” Handrigan said. “It wasn’t a down year, as we’re improving each year. I’ve been here two years now and this team has gotten better every year, but it’s still nowhere near where it needs to be, so the improvement is there on a positive note.”

The Irish opened up tournament play for the fall season at the Badger Invitational, where they were able to post a lower score in each day of competition but ultimately finished in eighth place. Three Irish golfers placed in the top 25, including freshmen Taichi Kho and Andrew O’Leary.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish freshman Andrew O’Leary follows his putt on the green during Notre Dame’s exhibition outing at Warren Golf Course on Aug. 24.

Handrigan’s squad next took their talents to the Northern Intercollegiate, where they were runner-up by a single stroke to Marquette. Junior Hunter Ostrom turned in a strong performance for the Irish, taking home the individual championship after posting a career low score of 68 (-4) in the final round of play. The victory was Ostrom’s first individual title, and he became the second Irish individual tournament winner since 2014. For the tournament, Ostrom also posted a career-best 54-hole score of 210 (-6).

The team then finished in fifth place at the Old Town Club Collegiate Invitational, and for the second time in the team’s first three tournaments, a freshman led the way. O’Leary shot under par in all three rounds and earned himself a 12th-place finish overall at 206 (-4).

Then, after a fairly strong showing in each of the first three tournaments, the Irish geared up for the Fighting Irish Classic at home at Warren Golf Course. While Notre Dame finished in fifth place, junior John Felitto broke the 54-hole program record after carding a score of 200 (-13) to finish third overall individually.

“We didn’t play poorly by any means,” Handrigan said. “A fifth-place finish isn’t what we expected, but there’s a lot of great teams in this 15-team field.”

Notre Dame then completed the fall season with an eighth-place finish at the Quail Valley Collegiate. At the tournament, Delgado earned his first top-10 finish of the season after finishing in seventh place at 211 (-5).

Following a four-month break from tournament play, Notre Dame resumed action in the spring at The Prestige, hosted by Stanford in mid-February. The highlight of the tournament came via strong play from Kho. He finished the final day of competition in 24th place after posting an overall score of 219 (+6), his second top-25 finish of the season. The freshman was able to move up a total of 42 spots in the final two rounds of play.

“It was a great last two days for Taichi and impressive for a freshman in that field and difficult of course,” Handrigan said after the tournament.

After several weeks off, the Irish got back into tournament action at The Schenkel, placing third with a score of 861 (-3) in their best finish in eight years at the tournament. Delgado and O’Leary sat in the driver seat for the Irish, both earning top-10 finishes. Delgado posted a weekend total of 212 (-4), which earned him fifth place at the tournament — the best individual finish at The Schenkel by a Notre Dame golfer ever. After a final round 73, O’Leary found himself in a tie for seventh place with a score of 213 (-3).

Delgado then earned his second top-five finish in a row at the Tar Heel Intercollegiate, finishing in a tie for second place with a 213 (-3). The showing was Delgado’s fifth under-par finish out of the previous six tournaments. As a team, Notre Dame took fifth out of 14 teams, posting a three-round total of 878 (+14), and was able to climb seven spots in the leaderboards in round two.

In the Augusta Haskins Award Invitational, Delgado was again the bright spot for Notre Dame. The senior finished in a tie for 16th place with a three-under par finish at 213, which included a six-under par 66 in the final round. Delgado’s 66 was the squad’s best individual round of the season and the furthest under-par performance of his career. The score also happened to be the 10th round of 66 or better on a par-72 course by a Notre Dame golfer since 1962. Overall, the Irish left Forest Hills Golf Club with a fifth-place finish after posting a three-day team score of 853 (-11). In the last round, the nine-under team score of 279 was the best of the season, and the fifth under-270 round for Notre Dame all season.

While Delgado performed at a high level personally over the course of the season, the senior also believes that the program as a whole is headed in the right direction.

“I think the program is growing — obviously I know the new coaching staff has been great, they’ve helped me a lot as a golfer,” Delgado said. “I learned a lot of things again about what I need to do to be successful, and I think we set ourselves up for better success by playing better competition, and I think that the new coaching staff has pushed us harder.”

Delgado credited the coaching staff for the opportunities he received in his time with the Irish.

“They opened certain doors that I never would have seen on my own, so most of my growth as a golfer can be attributed to them and what they’ve done with the program,” he said.

The Irish closed out their regular-season schedule with a seventh-place finish at the Boilermaker Invitational. The team finished with an even score of 586, which placed them two strokes out of a top-five finish despite the third round of the event being cancelled due to inclement weather. Delgado collected his fourth-consecutive tournament under-par after finishing three-under par and in a tie for 12th place.

As a captain, Delgado said he hoped to instill in his players valuable lessons in terms of the proper way to act and carry oneself both on and off the course based on his own actions. He said he believes that golf is a sport through which you can take away life lessons such as how to remain calm in tough situations and control one’s emotions and temper.

“I’m not positive, but I hope I’ve had an impact on the guys that have been on the team with me,” he said. “I guess what I consider to be my biggest achievement is the sort of impact I’ve had on the younger guys, and hopefully I pushed them to be better players. If I've done even a little bit of that then I will have left Notre Dame feeling that I’ve had an impact and that my presence here was worthwhile.”

Delgado then went on to shoot his lowest 54-hole score of the season at the ACC Championships with a 209 (-7). Delgado finished in seventh place, also a personal postseason best finish. As a team, the Irish finished with a 869 (+5), landing themselves with an 11th-place finish out of 12 teams.

“Miguel led our team all year, he played some excellent golf, especially in the spring,” Handrigan said. “He’s the first player that I can remember at least in 20 years of coaching that his individual score counted for every team round this year. … That’s really rare in college golf, and I’ve never seen it in all the teams I’ve coached.”

Moving forward, Handrigan believes that his team is headed in the right direction.

“I always tell our guys the best thing we can do for them is to ride more competition, and by doing that we’re going to bring in players that compete for more spots,” Handrigan said.