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Josele Ballester's journey from an Olympian upbringing to ASU golf

The Spanish golf phenom made the tough choice to hit the green a continent away from his family, but it's paying off in his third season as a Sun Devil


ASU junior Josele Ballester swings back on the follow through at the Copper Cup at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Maricopa. ASU lost 6.5-5.5.

Raised by Olympians, junior golfer Josele Ballester was born to play.

Hailing from the beautiful coastal city of Castellon, Spain, Ballester is in his third season as a Sun Devil and has become a standout golfer in ASU’s deck of cards. His noteworthy play stems from an athletic upbringing.

Ballester’s parents are both Olympians who competed in three Summer Olympics for Spain. His father, José Luis Ballester, was a swimmer, and his mother, Sonia Barrio, won a gold medal in field hockey at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

"We met at the Olympics," José Luis Ballester said. "So for 1992, both of us were athletes. We were in Madrid training in a place just for athletes, and two years later, in 1994, we met each other and started dating."

His parents got him into golf at a young age back in Spain. His sister Julia Ballester Barrio also got into golf and is now a freshman playing at Kansas State. José Luis Ballester said he introduced his children to the sport at a public course when Josele was three years old.

Ballester’s decision to play college golf in America was a tough, but necessary, decision for his playing career. The first few months of his college career were hard on his mother. Nearly three years later, José Luis Ballester knows that only seeing his son on holidays and breaks is worth it to give his son a shot at playing professional golf.

“I know that it takes a lot of effort to be away from home, but this is the best for my son,” José Luis Ballester said. “If he wants to play golf professionally in the next couple of years, the best way for him to practice and improve is to be in the States.”

Ballester’s decision to come to ASU continues a long line of Sun Devils from Spain. Before him, ASU hosted David Puig, Alex del Rey, and Masters winner Jon Rahm. Head coach Matt Thurmond circled Spain on his map as a talent hotspot.

“We knew about Josele several years ago," Thurmond said. "He was winning Spanish national championships since a young age, and it's kind of that next superstar coming up. We have made Spain a real high priority for us and we have always had Spaniards on our team.”

Ballester said that Rahm’s time at ASU wasn’t the only reason he committed, but that his legacy influenced him to follow in his footsteps. Ballester said he was recruited by former associate head coach Armen Kirakossian at the European Amateur before meeting Thurmond at another tournament in 2018.

“I always knew that for me to move forward in my golf journey, I'll have to come to the States and try college golf,” Ballester said. “I just didn't know if I was gonna end up in Arizona, but it was definitely on my mind.”

His decision to come to Arizona seems to have paid off so far. Ballester currently boasts a 70.3 stroke average, good for third best on the team. 

“Something that I've improved a lot is my mental game,” Ballester said. “I'm way more steady and calm on the course. I don't get rattled by emotions that easily at things that I used to do before.”

Ballester has played some of his best rounds of the season in his last two outings. He shot nine-under-par at the National Invitational in Tucson to finish tied for No. 21 at the event. He followed up that performance with a 14-under par outing at the Amer Invitational in Hawaii, finishing tied at No. 14.

His dominance this season is nothing new. During his freshman year, Ballester immediately impacted the Sun Devil squad by finishing in the top five in five of his eight outings while recording a 71.16 stroke average. After an impressive rookie campaign, Ballester improved in his sophomore season. He finished the year with a 70.56 stroke average with 23 rounds of par or better. 

Off the green, Ballester is known as a caring teammate who is turning into a role model for younger players. Junior Kiko Coehlo hails from Portugal, and shares a one-of-a-kind bond with Ballester and said his teammate cares about everyone on the roster.

“He's a guy that's very understanding,” Coehlo said. “(In) his first year, he didn't talk much, but as time went on, he started talking more and more. He's getting a bigger influence on the younger guys that come in, and he's going to do a good job.”

Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan

Correction: Ballester's stroke average was incorrect and was updated to the correct number on Feb. 22, 2024.

Reach the reporter at and follow @jackcbarron on Twitter. 

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