The college golf schedule is different than just about any other sport in the NCAA. Both the Notre Dame men’s and women’s golf teams completed the first half of their 10-event regular season in the fall semester. Over three months after their final competition of 2023, the teams will return to the links in February.
That last event of 2023 certainly was a special one. The Irish traveled to one of the most decorated golf courses in the entire world, competing with three other schools at the St. Andrews College Invitational at iconic St. Andrews Links in Scotland. For both seventh-year men’s coach John Handrigan and second-year women’s coach Caroline Powers Ellis, it was a moment they will cherish for a long time.
“Might have been my best experience in college golf to be honest, and it was great that we had both teams there for men’s and women’s golf. The teams got along extremely well between the men’s and women’s side,” Handrigan said. “And just being at the home of golf … that was amazing. So pretty fortunate. I don’t there's not many schools that get invited to an event like that. There’s only four and for us to be selected is pretty special.”
Ellis echoed Handrigan’s sentiment.
“That whole trip was just incredible,” Ellis said. “And I think we were playing against some really elite teams. And so I think that also helped our players to see that they’re not that far off from some of those really elite players. And also, you never know what the conditions are going to be, and you never know what the mindsets of your competitors are going to be.”
On paper, the men’s team had the more successful start to their season. The Irish began the fall by winning the Folds of Honor Collegiate hosted by Michigan State. They also faired well on their home course, finishing fourth in the Fighting Irish Classic in early October. But Handrigan believes the team still has plenty more to give.
“During the fall, we learned a lot we learned about the things that we need to get better at over the wintertime,” Handrigan said. “And I must tell you that the guys this winter really dedicated themselves in those areas and know what they need to work on. They did all those things that we had asked, and I’m very excited for the spring because of that.”
Golf is a game of adjustments. The first step is figuring out what needs to improve. Actually fixing it is much harder, but as Handrigan said, the work the team has put in should pay dividends going forward, particularly around the pin.
“We’re a highly skilled team, but we just needed to deliver more detail on that on that part of our games, and the guys have done that,” Handrigan said. “Like I said, we’ve done a lot of testing early on in the spring with our wedges from inside of 130 [yards], and the guys have been scoring pretty well.”
This semester will also be the final one at Notre Dame for Palmer Jackson. The graduate student has been the heartbeat of the team for several years and was a finalist for the 2023 Byron Nelson Award among numerous other accomplishments in his collegiate career.
“Not only is he a great player, but he’s just a great leader and captain of our team, so he’s the leader and the voice of the team,” Handrigan said. “When you have a player-led team with him in charge of that, it really speaks volumes for what we can do this spring … when you have your best player in the team being your hardest worker, it’s a pretty special combination.”
There is plenty of talent around Jackson, too. Senior Angelo Marcon was outstanding at St. Andrews, and Handrigan praised his work ethic. The Irish also welcomed in three freshmen last semester in Christopher Bagnall, Jacob Modleski and Rocco Salvitti. Modelski recently won the 2024 Jones Cup Invitational, one of the most prestigious amateur golf competitions (and one that was one by Jackson in 2022).
The women’s team also recorded its best result in its first tournament of the fall, finishing fourth at the Boilermaker Classic. Though Ellis admitted the team made too many mistakes, she saw plenty of potential in the fall. Addressing the team’s weaknesses is important, but so is fully capitalizing on their strengths, she said.
“Our team is really motivated this year, and they’ve been practicing, they’ve been working on their games. We've been working a lot on like the mental side of things, like toughness and how to get over mistakes,” Ellis said. “And so I think we’ve done a lot better job of moving past mistakes. Now we just need to make a few less of them.”
The team’s roster is in a very unique situation as well. Unlike the men’s team, which is fairly spread out across different grades, the seven-player roster is nearly evenly split between players who just finished their first semester at Notre Dame and ones entering their final semester with the Irish. The latter group is lead by graduate student Lauren Beaudreau (who qualified for NCAA Regionals last year). Graduate student Nina Rissi fits in both categories, having transferred over from Michigan State. Senior Chloe Schiavone was also a key piece for the Irish last spring.
There's plenty of young talent on the team, too. A trio of freshmen — Mimi Burton, Anna Heck and Alexsandra Lapple — got their first taste of college golf in the fall and look to grow into bigger roles this spring.
“[They did] whatever we asked and did whatever it took to help elevate this team. And so they all bring such I would say infectious energy on a daily basis. And I think that’s really helped ignite our entire team to really want to work together and push each other and see how good we can be this year,” Ellis said.
The women’s team begins their season on Feb. 5 at the Florida Atlantic Paradise Invitational. The men start a little bit later but in the same state, heading to the Watersound Invitational (hosted by Florida State) on Feb. 19.