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National Championship or bust for ASU men’s golf

ASU men's golf has remained in the top 10 of NCAA rankings since the 2018-19 season, the rise of ASU’s golf program seems to coincide with the hiring of head coach Matt Thurmond


ASU golfers practice at the Copper Cup at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.

From 2006 to 2017, ASU men's golf was in a down period.

Over those 11 years, the two-time national champions only made two top-ten appearances in the top-25 rankings, far from the illustrious 1990s, when the program won two national titles.

In 2016, the program fired former head coach Tim Mickelson after five seasons with the team and hired Matt Thurmond. Thurmond took only two years to bring the program back to prominence when they re-entered the top 10 again in 2018.

ASU golf has remained in the top 10 of NCAA rankings ever since.

“We’ve had the same success for five or six years,” Thurmond said. “We haven’t been out of the top five or six in the rankings for that long, which is longer than any other team.”

Despite the resurgence, ASU has not won a Pac-12 title since 2008. However, the team could be eager to add to their trophy cabinet. Junior Kiko Coelho said the team works hard to create that future opportunity.

"We’re still a pretty deep team,” Coelho said. "Everyone works really hard, and we’re just going to keep getting better."

The Sun Devils continue to improve every year under Thurmond. Since their final ranking in 2019 at No. 7, ASU has been enhanced by exactly one place every season. If the pattern continues, the 2023-24 roster should place second in the final top-25 rankings.

However, ASU’s current roster wants more than just a second-place finish; they want a national championship.

With the new addition of freshman Wenyi Ding and the final season of graduate student Ryggs Johnston, the Sun Devils have an excellent opportunity to finish their season strong, regardless of their current standing.

The team culture mirrors their ambitions. Thurmond says that the players have a brother-like bond, which encourages them to play better for each other. 

“The culture is really strong with our players right now,” Thurmond said. “They like each other a lot. They like being around each other, so they practice long hours. They push each other and compete hard.”

Sophomore Luke Potter said their current success stems from the sometimes friendly competition between the teammates.

“It starts with the preparation,” Potter said. “Everyone’s out here almost every day practicing and competing with one another.”

While the Sun Devils have shown success in the fall, they need to take the next step if they want the national title that has eluded them this century. According to Thurmond, the next step is staying the course.

“The biggest key for us is to keep doing what we do. We have a plan to get better every day,” Thurmond said. “They’re highly skilled and developing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses all the time.”

Potter said consistency and linear progress are the team's focus as of late.

“You need to do the things you see success in,” Potter said. We talked a lot about making our weaknesses our strengths. You also have strengths that you can build upon.”

Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Shane Brennan, Walker Smith.

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