WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. – Why not us?
It’s a motto that San Diego State head coach Ryan Donovan has adopted for his team this season. Historically, the Aztecs have flown under the radar, and this spring is no different, especially with a relatively unproven bunch that lost some talent from a season ago and didn’t compete in the fall.
“We get overlooked a lot,” Donovan said, “but we think we’re pretty good.”
The Aztecs proved it Wednesday at the Southwestern Invitational – and emphatically. Playing top-ranked Pepperdine on one of the Waves’ home tracks, North Ranch Country Club, and going up against other NCAA contenders Arizona State and SMU, San Diego State rallied from seven shots down entering the final day to beat the Sun Devils by three shots.
“We’ve got a good team, and people haven’t really put a lot of respect on our name,” Aztecs junior Youssef Guezzale said. “Coaches’ poll didn’t even put us top 25 in the nation, so we wanted to come out here and make a statement and I think we did that.”
With the weather not playing nice – 40-degree temperatures and high winds for much of the 54 holes – scoring was not easy. Pepperdine and Arizona State each posted 15 over for their final rounds to finish second and fifth, respectively. The Aztecs shot 10 over as a team for the tournament, but they also managed to get eight birdies and an eagle from their counting scorers on the final four holes on Wednesday.
Guezzale, playing in the final foursome with three potential All-Americans, had three of those birdies, including a closing 6-foot make on the last hole, after making three doubles on the front nine.
“I just told myself new back nine, lot of birdies out there, just need to clutch up,” Guezzale said. “I knew my team needed a couple coming in and I just made it happen.”
Guezzale, who shares a putting coach (Derek Uyeda) with former Aztec and current PGA Tour star Xander Schauffele, only teed it up in one event a season ago. So did fellow junior Joey Moore, who also birdied the last Wednesday to clinch a top-10 finish (T-9).
But opportunities began plentiful after last season was cut short by the pandemic. All-American Leo Oyo transferred to Oklahoma State, Christian Banke left for Arizona and Newport Laparojkit graduated.
“I think it got them fired up, and they put in the work over the break knowing that they had a chance to actually play,” Donovan said. “We had some hard talks, to be honest, like, ‘What are you doing? You’ve been here long enough now.’ Sometimes it takes a kid two or three years to finally adjust. But you’re either in or you’re out. You’re either buying in and going to work or why don’t you get a job and do something else.
“They took it to heart and did what they needed to do.”
Guezzale finished T-3 alongside Louisville’s Matthias Schmid, SMU’s Noah Goodwin and Pepperdine’s RJ Manke, yet he also was 10 shots behind winner David Puig, the Arizona State sophomore who won his first college event by a tournament-record nine shots over Pepperdine’s Joshua McCarthy.
Puig, who made no bogeys Wednesday as part of a closing 2-under 70 and just one bogey in his last 36 holes, was playing in just his sixth college event. Now, the expectations are even higher as he strives to follow in the footsteps of fellow Spaniards and Arizona State alums Jon Rahm and Alejandro Canizares.
“Winning here in the U.S. is really important to me,” Puig said. “I hope to win many more tournaments, but I don’t know, it’s hard to say [whether I’ll be as great as those guys]. I’m just going to try and play my best every tournament and try to win as much as I can, so that’s my goal.”
San Diego State’s goals may have just changed a little after this week. Donovan calls this squad one of the closest-knit teams he’s had in 18 seasons in San Diego (nearly half his roster shares a house), and he has a lot of belief in these players. The problem now is so does everyone else. The coaches likely won’t be leaving the Aztecs out of the next poll, and the outside expectations have grown, as well.
Why not us? San Diego State may still be asking that come late May at Grayhawk.