From August until late January, ASU women's golf consisted of five members — all of whom competed and all of whom dominated to the tune of five top five competition finishes.
One of those finishes included first place at the Stanford Intercollegiate tournament in October, which led to a No. 2 placement in the country on Golfstat’s Division I Women’s Golf Rankings.
Then things changed. At the start of the spring semester, the team added freshman Amanda Linner, who graduated early from high school in Sweden to kick-start her highly-anticipated collegiate career.
Suddenly, the Sun Devils were a six woman lineup in which only the top five would represent the team in a group setting — something head coach Missy Farr-Kaye says is “meant to be.”
“For the sixth man, they are doing their job when they are pushing,” Farr-Kaye said. “They are pushing the rest of the team to make sure that everybody is on their toes and everybody is doing what they are supposed to be doing.”
That was the role that former Sun Devil Madison Kerley played for the team in 2017 when ASU took home its eighth title at the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship in Sugar Grove, Illinois.
While the prospect of missing the opportunity to play is certainly undesirable, the importance of a sixth woman to the team is, in fact, crucial.
“It is super hard to do, and nobody grows up and says, ‘I want to be a sixth man and not travel,’” Farr-Kaye said. “But their job is to be a great teammate. In golf, that is a little harder to do, but I feel like we are complete now, which is great.”
On this year’s ASU roster, every member of the team has a particular set of skills and characteristics that helps make the group the powerhouse that it has become.
Senior Olivia Mehaffey is in the final year of an illustrious collegiate career in which she has earned All-American honors three times and was most recently one of five players in the country to receive a sponsor exemption to play in the ANA Inspiration event — part of the LPGA Tour.
Freshman Linn Grant is another name of note, having enjoyed an impressive debut season thus far after joining the team in the fall as the No. 13 ranked women’s amateur in the world.
With every member of the team entering with great individual success, the chemistry within the team has developed under the premise that every member knows the ultimate goal: to win as a unit.
“We are such a family to begin with,” assistant coach Michelle Estill said. “That is the way a team should be — the seniors and juniors helping the younger ones guide through.”
The fall semester was different in that it featured little to no pressure in the form of failing to make the cut. Spring brought with it an added element of competition and a slight tweak to the mindsets of players at practice.
But what must always be considered, Farr-Kaye and Estill said, is the fact that each team member was recruited to ASU for their individual list of achievements, and every one of them is capable of leading the Sun Devils to success.
“We have six elite, top-driven athletes that are the top for their countries in the world,” Estill said. “They could go almost anywhere and play number one or number two, but they are here for a reason.”
Some tournaments, such as the upcoming Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational, which starts on March 10 in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, feature an individual competition, which means every member of the team will travel.
Of course, all six members will still be vying for a spot in the top five, but the presence of the team as a whole speaks volumes of the support and encouragement each Sun Devil will be able to give and receive.
“To get to play is such a nice experience,” Linner said. “This is what we have been waiting for and longing for — to travel around the states and play different courses.”
For the next three years, the NCAA Golf Championships will take place at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale — a massive honor and an advantage for ASU.
To Farr-Kaye and her coaching staff, the process to determine the five who will compete has not been easy, and no final decision has been made.
Some might say this is a good pickle to be caught in because the Sun Devils consist of such proven talent from front to back. But one thing is for certain: The support and motivation coursing throughout the team will far outweigh any form of six man adversity.
“We had a really good fall and we are having a good spring,” Farr-Kaye said. “This is where you really shine — by focusing individually on what you need to be doing.”