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After a 25-year drought, ASU men's golf is focused on winning it all

Men's golf has the talent, determination to bring home the NCAA National Championship

David Puig.jpg

ASU junior golfer David Puig prepares to putt during the Fighting Illini Invitational Event on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Illinois.

No. 3 ASU men's golf has earned a reputation as a top-notch program due to alumni like Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Paul Casey and Billy Mayfair, and no team has won more Pac-12 league titles than ASU's dozen.

But it has been 25 years since the men's golf team has won an NCAA Championship. Now, the current Sun Devil squad hopes to again go all the way through the same path as the last championship team: all-around success from each golfer.

In ASU's last national championship, the final round of stroke play at the NCAA National Finals came to an end at the Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tennessee on June 1, 1996.

The Sun Devils entered the tournament ranked as the No.1 team, but the headlines were dominated by Stanford University's standout sophomore, Tiger Woods. He would go on to win the individual title at 3-under.

The ASU squad consisted of Darren Angel, Chris Hanell, Scott Johnson, Pat Perez and Joey Snyder. 

The team lost 1993 Individual Champion and four-time All-American Todd Demsey to graduation and notably had no individual standout.  

In an ASU News article from 2016, Randy Lein, who coached the 1996 team, commented about the uniqueness of the '96 roster.

"It was pretty unusual because you normally have one stud that pulls the rest of the guys together, but that year we were a by-committee team. We just had five guys who played well together," Lein said. 

The by-committee approach proved successful for the Sun Devils back then, and it may have to work again for the Sun Devils now. 

The current squad does have a stud in Pac-12 Golfer of the Month for September senior Cameron Sisk; however, his performance alone will not be enough to win match-play for the team.

Unlike the 1996 tournament where each player competed against one another openly off of pure stroke-play, the current match-play format requires golfers to compete in one-on-one matchups where the number of match wins is tallied to crown the victorious team. 

The match-play format makes winning the title inherently more difficult, requiring all five golfers to constantly bring their best to each pairing.

Assistant coach Armen Kirakossian knows this is the team's biggest challenge.

"Getting all the guys playing well at the right time is kind of our task. In those high-pressure moments, you have to really lean on each other. You've gotta lean on your teammates and your coaches, and we have to have trust in our guys too. That's really what we're working for throughout the whole season," said Kirakossian. 

Fresh off of a win from the Isleworth Invitational in Florida, the team has now finished all four of their tournaments this season in the top three so far. 

The squad is confident in themselves and their ability, but they understand there is more to be done to compete for the championship. 

They need to qualify for the regional championships held from May 16-18, 2022. Then, only the top five teams advance to the finals. Once at the finals, teams compete in stroke-play. The top eight teams from the stroke-play then move on to the match-play format, which determines the winner.

Graduate student Mason Andersen knows this all too well, as he and the team were eliminated from the tournament in the semi-finals of last season's championship after a loss to Oklahoma University. 

"We definitely accomplished some things last season, we broke through to the semi-finals and I think we proved to ourselves and the Sun Devil community that we can do it. Winning stroke play by as much as we did is in itself a huge accomplishment, but match-play is a whole different animal. You gotta have five guys who can bring it in match-play," Andersen said.

Each season, the players and the coaches are fully focused on winning the NCAA Championship. 

"Almost every meeting, our main goal is to try and win the national and conference championships. That's what everything we do is geared towards. I don't think we'd be satisfied with anything less," junior Ryggs Johnston said.

Sisk knows how special it would be for the team to win the championship.

"It would mean everything. Every day we try to do the right things to be ready for that moment when it comes. That's what matters in the end ... we want to win that more than anything. It would be pretty cool for our coaches and it would be huge for our University," Sisk said. 

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Justin SpangenthalSports Reporter

Justin Spangenthal is a reporter for The State Press, currently covering Men's Golf and Track and Field. Justin transferred to ASU last January and is planning to graduate Fall '23. He is passionate about journalism and hopes to one day launch his own media outlet.

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