With the Thunderbird Collegiate on the horizon, the men's golf team has played well enough to finish toward the top this calendar year but has yet to come out in first place.
The Sun Devils kicked off 2023 with a third place finish at the Southwestern Invitational.
Freshman Luke Potter took the spotlight in the first round, finishing at 65 (-7) after arguably one of the best rounds of his career.
Associate head coach Thomas Sutton said he was happy with Potter's performance and was especially satisfied with his ability to close out the last few holes of the back nine.
"Luke played well and looked solid all day," Sutton said in a game recap from Sun Devil Athletics. "He got off to a good start and held it through the tough holes. The final five were there for the taking, and he took advantage."
The Sun Devils traveled to Mexico for the Cabo Collegiate Invitational, where sophomore Preston Summerhays' strong showing led the team to a third place finish.
He kept that momentum through the National Invitational in Tucson, leading the team to another third place finish.
Summerhays remained bogey-free for nearly the entirety of the final round, bogeying on the very last hole. He finished the round 66 (-6), enough to finish tied for fourth.
The UA Wildcats took first place with a total score of 840. Pepperdine came in second at 841, and ASU finished in third at 842, only two strokes behind the winner.
Head coach Matt Thurmond said the team had performed exceptionally well but struggled to close their tournaments with wins.
The team had an opportunity to improve at the Valspar Invitational but was met with an uphill battle.
Valspar was incredibly challenging from the start, with the team collectively earning 15 bogeys in the first round alone and two double bogeys. Day two yielded similar results, with 14 team bogeys and three double bogeys. The struggles continued in the third round with 17 bogeys, two double bogeys and one triple bogey to cap off a disappointing weekend for the Sun Devils.
Following the disappointing outing, Thurmond said that the team had much improvement to do before switching gears for the next tournament: Calusa.
Putting the woes of the sixth-place Valspar Invitational finish behind them, the Sun Devils secured a third-place finish following a solid final round at the Calusa Cup in Naples, FL.
The Sun Devils, led by sophomore Josele Ballester and Potter, were able to round out their game in the last back nine of the week, both staying at or under par in the home stretch of the tournament. Their performance in the Calusa Cup was an instant upgrade from their Palm City outing at Valspar only a few days prior.
Thurmond said the day before Calusa that he was happy the team could get back in action.
And boy, did they ever.
The Sun Devils dropped 51 birdies in the tournament. Out of those 51, 11 came at the hands of Ballester, who finished fourth in the tournament.
Ballester started the first three holes of round one on the front nine with a par, birdie and bogey, staying on par for the rest of the way out. On the way back in, he birdied on 10 and 13 but bogeyed on 15 and double-bogeyed on 11, finishing the first round at 73 (+1).
He evened his score to par in round two despite double bogeying on 5 and 12. Ballester was able to rein it in by birdieing five times: on 6, 8, 10, 14 and 15.
While Ballester bogeyed in the fifth hole of the third round, he would remain at or under par for the rest of the round, finishing at 70 (-2). Thurmond said that staying even or below on a course as challenging as the one at Calusa is no small feat and that a great deal of focus from Ballester was vital to his strong outing.
Potter's third round also featured a bogey-free back nine, showing quick improvement over his numbers from two days prior, which saw bogeys on 11 and 14, with a double-bogey on 12. Potter finished the tournament in eighth place.
The Sun Devils return home to host the Thunderbird Collegiate at Papago Golf Course in Tempe, with first-round action teeing off on April 14.
Edited by Walker Smith, Reagan Priest and Caera Learmonth.
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