SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Arizona State head men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond admits it would have been embarrassing to be hosting a party and then not get an invite. So the pressure was on when his squad competed in the Albuquerque Regional earlier this month.
ASU is hosting the 30-team NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship beginning Friday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale. And yes, the Sun Devils will take part in the festivities, having finished second in that regional behind Texas Tech.
It will be the 56th appearance in the championship for ASU and the 16th in the last 19 years. Only three schools boast more appearances: Oklahoma State (73), Texas (66) and USC (58).
ASU was supposed to host the event for the first of three years in 2020 but the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the season being canceled, so this week’s event has been in the works for a while.
“For three years all the time and energy that has gone into this tournament. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘Do they realize we have to qualify in regional?’ And it’s never easy. So I couldn’t fully think about the NCAA Championship knowing that,” Thurmond said before his team headed out for a practice round Thursday morning. “When we got through regional last week it was like a huge burden was lifted from me, and I think the players as well. How embarrassing or tough would that be to not be there? And to have that in back of your mind as a fear, it’s nice to have that behind us.”
ASU is ranked No. 10 nationally by both Golfweek and Golfstat. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Florida State hold down the top three spots with the Sooners topping both rankings. All three of those teams are in the field.
The Sun Devils have played 11 events this spring with those scattered throughout six states. That is more than they usually take part in but since the fall schedule was wiped out by the global health pandemic Thurmond wanted his players to make up for lost time.
It has also given his team the chance to play different types of courses in different climates. ASU has also played against many of the teams in the field this week.
“These guys love playing golf,” Thurmond said. “The hardest thing for a guy that lives and breathes golf is being told he can’t compete in tournaments. Just giving them as many chances to compete and do what they love to do and not be held back. I mean they were held back and held back in so many ways it just felt good to be able to travel and move around and play tournaments. There were times I was thinking maybe we played too much and it was busy and we were tired. Maybe some we didn’t play our best because they were right on top of another in a place maybe we shouldn’t be, but I think it prepared us well.”
The team registered wins at the Amer Ari Intercollegiate in Hawaii and the Goodwin hosted by Pac-12 foe Stanford. The Pac-12 tournament was one of four second-place finishes for ASU. The Sun Devils were runner-up there to rival Arizona, which failed to advance to the NCAAs.
The ASU quintet will consist of sophomores David Puig and Ryggs Johnston, junior Cameron Sisk and seniors Chun An Yu and Mason Andersen.
Puig, a native of La Garriga, Spain, tied for eighth individually at the regional with an 8-under 208. He was named Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year this season and looks forward to his first national championship appearance.
“There are always nerves, always pressure,” he said. “It’s at home. It’s really good to have a lot of fans and support but there are nerves too because you want to play good here at home. That’s a positive thing. That means we care about that. We’re excited about playing well this week.”
Yu comes in with experience under pressure, having finished third individually at the 2019 national championship held in Fayetteville, Arkansas. That matched the second-highest finish by a Sun Devil, the other coming from current PGA pro Jon Rahm in 2016.
“It was definitely a confidence booster for sure, you compete out there at the highest level against the best players,” Yu said of that finish. “It definitely helped my confidence a lot. My game is good right now and I’m ready to go.”
Thurmond jokingly said he wouldn’t mind hotter temperatures and wind this week since those are conditions in which his team is used to playing and he likes the home course advantage.
“There are advantages to hosting,” he said. “We know the course pretty well. It’s not like we’re playing it every day but we have been up here a lot. We’ll have an energy with local people out here watching. But there’s a pressure that comes with hosting too. It’s not all easy. There’s expectations that we’ll be amazing and do everything perfectly. I think the pressure will maybe offset the home course but as the week goes on I think our advantage will get stronger.”