After its first two tournaments, the ASU men’s golf team is gearing up for the rest of a lengthy season. With dreams of a national title, the Sun Devils will need to rely on a host of veterans to lead them to their first championship since 1996.
Last season, ASU played relatively well and finished near the top of the standings in most tournaments. At the tail end of their schedule, the Sun Devils had a historic performance at the Las Vegas Regional to punch their ticket to the NCAA Championship, recording an NCAA postseason record 59-under final round. Despite their dominant performance, ASU’s season was cut short in championship match play.
The Sun Devils were led by sophomore Preston Summerhays' terrific string of performances that earned him PING First-Team All-America Honors. Summerhays averaged a 69.79 stroke average in 13 tournaments and scored 66 or lower in six rounds last season. As one of the team’s veterans, graduate Ryggs Johnston backed up Summerhays with a 71.08 stroke average while finishing 11 rounds in the 60s.
While ASU had a terrific season, the Sun Devils are still looking to improve their play and finish what they started at the national championship. Sophomore Luke Potter said he thought the team’s season went well, but that they were disappointed to fall short when it counted.
"Obviously, you come to ASU, you want to win tournaments individually and for your team," Potter said. "Team-wise, we were really consistent. But unfortunately, we were consistently maybe one or two shots out of winning a lot of tournaments."
So far this season, the No. 2 ranked Sun Devils have been led in scoring by some of their oldest players. Graduates Gabe Salvanera and Johnston are leading the team with a 71.17 and 72 stroke average, respectively. Despite his well-rounded play, Johnston said he is still working on improving his skills to get better and lead the team.
"I think there's not a single area that's really weak right now, but also I don't feel like there's a single area that's super strong," Johnston said. "I just need to kind of sharpen up and go through rounds without making too many big mistakes and just play a little sharper."
Rounding out the team, the Sun Devils' veterans are joined by four freshmen on the roster. Already off to a hot start, freshman Fifa Laopakdee won the Maui Jim Intercollegiate, while freshman Connor Williams placed eighth.
While the freshmen lit up the leaderboard, the rest of the Sun Devils finished second at the Sahalee Players Championship in Washington. At the tournament, Summerhays won the tournament by shooting 5-under 211 (72-67-72) to help ASU finish just eight shots behind Illinois.
In their latest outing, the Sun Devils jetted halfway across the country to play in the Fighting Illini Invitational, a tournament hosted by the same team they lost against just days earlier. After two rounds of play, the final round of the tournament was called off due to weather, forcing ASU to settle for fifth.
With the rest of the season in sight, the Sun Devils will hit the green in seven different states and in Mexico across nine tournaments. After traveling across the country, the Sun Devils will finally host the Thunderbird Collegiate and the Pac-12 Championships closer to home in Arizona.
Reflecting on his years of experience, Johnston said it can be hard for college players to prepare for tournaments while focusing on staying healthy. Recognizing his players' needs, head coach Matt Thurmond said it was his duty to get his team in the right headspace to succeed in tournaments throughout a lengthy season.
In his seven full seasons at the helm, Thurmond has led ASU to three-straight NCAA top-five finishes while making the program one of three teams to advance to championship match play each of the past three seasons. Recognizing his team’s potential, Thurmond said his team is doing everything possible to play their best throughout the season and win a title.
"You're not going to win it without happy players, you're not going to win it without great team chemistry, and you're not going to win it without elite player development," Thurmond said. "So all of those things are what we focus on and what we do. We’re hopeful that it will all end in the national championship."
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Sadie Buggle and Grace Copperthite.