Arizona State's winning team (ASU Athletics/Twitter photo)
There are times on the golf course when Matt Thurmond is practically living inside his phone – seeing every birdie, doing all the math, texting constantly with his assistant. But for every bit of that, there are steps back to see the big picture. It’s a delicate give and take as a college golf coach at a program as historically layered as Arizona State.
“I think that’s a fun balance to celebrate our tradition – build it, relive it, appreciate it, talk about it but also still believe that their best days are ahead,” Thurmond said days after Arizona State won for the third time this spring – and with a stunning 50-under total.
It’s a rare thing in college athletics to be a golf school. No matter how you cut it, college football and basketball dominate sports headlines, nationally and locally (hello, March Madness). That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a golf culture like the one that exists at Arizona State. The men have won two national titles, the women eight and hardly a week goes by that an alum isn’t passing through campus, interacting with the current squad.
Outside of defending NCAA champion Oklahoma State, another well-known #golfschool that has won four times this season and claimed the individual champion every
time, Arizona State’s season has been the most head-turning. Success on the scale that these two programs are experiencing doesn’t happen overnight.
“Some of this is new for us – winning a lot and being really good,” said Thurmond, now in his third year in Tempe after a successful 15-year run at Washington.
The core of this team is a trio of juniors that came in the same year as Thurmond (but who were recruited by former coach Tim Mickelson): Chun An Yu, Alex del Rey and Blake Wagoner. All are ranked inside Golfweek’s
They’ve made nearly every start with the team since arriving on campus and care deeply about the legacy, so it’s fitting that they star in this chapter. Their supporting cast is strong, too, and Thurmond points to that depth as an obvious advantage.
“It’s hard to take somebody out of the lineup or make them qualify if they’re constantly helping the team,” he said.
In Tucson last week, the bulk of the 50-under team total came from a second-round 25-under 263 team score. That’s the best single-round score by an Arizona State team in the modern era (also known as the Golfstat era, which began with the 1993-94 season).
To coach on a day like that is to feel an hours-long adrenaline rush. Thurmond frequently texts back and forth with his assistant Armand Kirakossian during a round. They couldn’t communicate the birdies fast enough that day.
“A text a minute,” Thurmond said.
Three Arizona State players went the whole day without a bogey. The team only counted three bogeys, plus one double (and three of those were on the same card).
“There was no going backwards, it just kept adding and adding,” Thurmond said, noting that USC also went on an 18-under run that day. “We’re like, ‘We can’t make many more birdies but we can’t shake these guys.’”
Arizona State finished that job in the final round, which is another significant part of the story.
The team is third in the Golfweek
/Sagarin College Rankings and in nine season starts, has taken only seven head-to-head losses. Outside of their three victories, there have also been five second-place finishes.
If they had let it, coming in second could have been the thing that defined this season. Remarkably, the Sun Devils have been in the final pairing in eight of nine tournaments they’ve played. Thurmond watched titles slip through the team’s fingers time and again, more as a result of another team’s surge than an Arizona State fumble.
Oddly enough, Thurmond says the team’s first win at the John Burns Collegiate in Hawaii wasn’t even their best week. As a measuring stick, Arizona State teed it up alongside Oklahoma State the next week at the Cabo Collegiate. The Cowboys outscored them by eight for the week, and without one of their best players.
“That group they have is awesome,” Thurmond said. “We’re not afraid to play them and we look forward to playing them. Right now, there’s a good gap we need to work hard to fill.”
If there’s a formula that goes along with the golf school moniker, perhaps it’s that past players must be invested in the future of the program just as much as current players want to move it forward.
“ASU is supposed to be a successful golf place,” Thurmond said. “It’s who we are, and it’s the only option. Everybody knows that, including our players and our alums.”
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IOWA STATE WOMEN TURN HEADS
: Until last week, Iowa State's women had been winless in stroke play since 2012. In breaking that streak, the Cyclones went 20 under in the final round of the MountainView Collegiate on March 24 to win by 14 shots.
There are a handful of notable numbers surrounding that final round at Saddlebrook in Tucson, Ariz. Consider that the Cyclones were five shots out of the lead entering the final round and that 20-under 268 is a new program record.
All five Iowa State players were below par in the final round and three of them placed in the top 10 individually. Sophomore Joy Chou had a school-record 8-under 64 in the final round and tied for second. There were six birdies, an eagle and no bogeys on her card.
Iowa State is a team that has been sneaky good in the past. The Cyclones are the only team in the Big 12 to finish fourth or better in each of the past nine conference tournaments. They are currently ranked No. 43 in the Golfweek
/Sagarin College Rankings.
The win, of course, is also the Cyclones’ first since the death of their former teammate Celia Barquin Arozamena last fall. Many programs still wear a yellow ribbon to honor the reigning Big 12 champion, and many more have her initials stitched on articles of clothing. She lives on, too, through her nickname for her beloved teammates: the #cyclonitas.
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TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH
PING/ASU Women's Invitational, Papago GC, Phoenix, Ariz., March 29-30
Arizona State’s home event has traditionally been the last tune-up before conference championships begin. It’s a chance to see how some of the top Pac-12 schools might stack up against each other when a championship ring is on the line, but also draws top teams from the east coast, too. In short, it’s a signal that postseason is around the corner.
ANA Junior Inspiration, Mission Hills CC (Pete Dye/Dinah Shore), Rancho Mirage, Calif., March 30-31
What once was a tournament limited to Southern California’s top female juniors has now expanded to a nationwide event. There’s a major perk on the line: The winner gets into the ANA Inspiration, an LPGA major, the following week at Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Course. The event is now hosted by the AJGA, and the past two winners include Lucy Li (2017) and Rose Zhang (2018).
The Goodwin, Stanford University GC, Palo Alto, Calif., March 28-30
Another one of the season’s final tune-up events before conference championships get underway. Oklahoma, which won the team title at the Southern Highlands Collegiate earlier this month, will return to defend its title.
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TWEET OF THE WEEK
: Just your basic carpet putting contest with an NBA MVP