SCOTTSDALE – Channeling strength behind a young core – freshmen Michael Mjaaseth and Luke Potter and sophomores Josele Ballester, Preston Summerhays and Kiko Coelho – and returning seniors Ryggs Johnston and Gabe Salvanera, the bright future of Arizona State men’s golf is on the horizon.
Now that four of the five underclassmen have championship experience under their belts and have two upperclassmen to mentor the young program, there are plenty of reasons to believe the successful ASU program is here to stay among the best in the country.
While Tuesday’s quarterfinals loss in the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club ended the season, ASU can feel encouraged after advancing to match play.
Holding a top-five position in the country for the entirety of the 2022-23 season and one tournament win at the Thunderbird Collegiate in mid-April, the Sun Devils had early hopes for postseason success.
They concluded their regular-season conference play with a second-place title at the Pac-12 Championship after losing to Stanford on the Cardinal’s home course. The last stop before nationals was regionals, held at Bear’s Best Las Vegas Country Club, where the team took first place and secured the No. 4 spot going into the championship last weekend.
After four days of stroke play during Grayhawk’s final year of hosting the championship, Summerhays led ASU with an 18th-place finish at 1-over par, followed by Johnston and Ballester both tying for 29th place with a score of 4-over par. Mjaaseth shot 6-over par and Potter finished at 11-over par.
“We definitely wanted to win a couple more times,” Ballester said. “Especially here at home for nationals, but I think overall we had a really good season.”
The Sun Devils and Cardinal met again shortly after their Pac-12 battle and competed in a head-to-head playoff for the eighth and final spot to advance to match play.
Ballester pulled out the only win for the Sun Devils, beating his opponent 2-up after Johnston and Potter lost their matches. Mjaaseth followed Ballester in hopes of keeping ASU’s championship journey alive, but the birdie putt landed just short of the 18th hole.
“If you believe in the golf gods, you would say they didn’t want us to win today,” ASU men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond said. “It takes a lot of luck, a lot of skill, a lot of patience and a lot of toughness. We had a lot of it, we just needed a little bit more.”
ASU lost three of five rounds with Mjaaseth’s loss, before Summerhays finished the 18th hole as North Carolina took home a 3-1-0 win.
The Sun Devils are no strangers to playing on college golf’s biggest stage with this year’s punched ticket marking their 58th appearance at the NCAAs. Tuesday’s loss to North Carolina comes after a successful last few years at Grayhawk. They finished tied for third place in 2021 and were runners-up to Pepperdine in 2022.
Although this year fell short of expectations, ASU’s young group will have more cracks in the near future if the team continues to take the same massive leaps each year.
“This year I just came with a different mindset,” Ballester said about his personal development. “I just think that I am a more mature golfer.”
The offseason is not just about tying together loose ends for ASU as most of the team will play in amateur events around the world. Johnston, Potter and Summerhays are competing in the U.S. Open qualifying rounds, which start June 5.
“They’re heartbroken and this (loss) will be painful. But they’ll get to jump right into a U.S. Open qualifying soon,” Thurmond said. “I think you’ll probably be talking about a Sun Devil or two in the U.S. Open, so that will be fun.”
Johnston, the lone senior of the championship team, will return next season with an extra year of eligibility from the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnston’s time at ASU has prepared him “more than enough” for the U.S Open qualifier, he said, along with playing against and with some of the best amateurs in the world on the best courses in the nation.
“(Keep) doing what we usually do,” Johnston said about his approach.
Among ASU’s young core, incoming freshman recruit Connor Williams is already adding to the excitement for the future of ASU golf after signing his letter of intent out of San Pasqual High School in Escondido, California. Coming off a win at the Agave Amateur in Indigo last December, Williams will also compete for a spot in the U.S. Open field and enters with 11 events under his belt.
Depending on how the week plays out, and with all five championship competitors returning, the event could preview more success to come in the 2023-24 season.
“Next year, we’ll see, we’re gonna be really good again,” Thurmond said. “Same thing, get to match play and go win a couple of matches.”