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2021-22 Season Preview: Men's Golf

Sep 9, 2021

by Henry Schleizer, Sun Devil Communications Student Intern

Experiencing success is a good accomplishment, but continuing that same level of play is a result of multiple factors.

Leadership, coaching, veteran experience, and young talent are just a few of the denominators that can help maintain elite culture and the 2021-22 Sun Devils men's golf team has all of them.
The Sun Devils return to the course at the Maridoe Collegiate Invitational on Monday to open the fall season after a 2020-2021 season in which they were just strokes away from a competing for the NCAA title on the final day. 
--Men's Golf Ranked Third in Golf Channel's Preseason Rankings (by Brentley Romine, Golf Channel/Aug. 25, 2021)
--Four Sun Devils in Top 40 of Golf Channel's Preseason Rankings (by Brentley Romine, Golf Channel/Aug. 25, 2021)

After finishing as semifinalists last June, Sun Devil head coach Matt Thurmond has set high expectations for his team heading into their first tournament of the year.
"You start every year wanting to win a national championship," Thurmond said. "But it's much different how you process and if you're really close versus not that close. And being really close, like we were last year. I think it kind of supercharged our energy and our focus and our confidence. Frankly, everybody says they want to do it. But to really put yourself there is a different experience. We know what it takes. And we look forward to making another run out of this year."
A team is only as good as their leader. While it returns three All-Americans, the Sun Devils have some fantastic leadership in Mason Andersen, who returns to Tempe for a fifth season. Andersen's competitiveness helped ASU win the stroke play portion of the NCAA championship over 72 holes, and his toughness and leadership will aid the Sun Devils this season according to Thurmond.
"I think he will be good on the golf course and set the tone of just will and intensity," Thurmond said. "He's a fighter. He plays with so much desire. … I want our team to want it as bad as Mason wants it."
While Andersen is the eldest member of the team, the Sun Devils get back one of their top players. James Leow returns to the links after missing last season due to a hip injury, and Thurmond praised the senior for how hard he worked to get back on the course in time for the fall season.
"He's got a lot of confidence," Thurmond said. "He's not messing around. This is a huge year for him, his senior season, and he has big hopes. He's worked very hard to put himself in this position. So he will beat anybody that's not extremely hungry, as he will be."

Andersen and Leow aren't the only seniors on the team, as Cameron Sisk returns for his senior year. The two-time All-American bounced back to finish in the top-10 of the NCAA Championships after a slow start to the season, and has continued to set a standard of excellence for his teammates.
"He's just a pro," Thurmond said. "He's a really smart, steady, reliable person and player. That's the kind of leadership he will show. He's a guy that does his homework, stays out of trouble, practices, shows up prepared … and is constantly moving forward, because he has good habits and discipline. So Cam is a very steady force of a team."
ASU has two players who enter the season on the Haskins award preseason list. One of whom is Ryggs Johnston. Johnston ended last season on a tear, shooting a 63 at the NCAA Championships at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale and despite his breakout performances last season, the Junior still hasn't gotten the recognition he deserves.
"He's confident and comfortable with himself," Thurmond said. "He's not a sleeper anymore, but he's still a little underrated. You won't find anybody that competes harder than him. And I don't know that you'll find anybody that hits the ball straighter and more consistently."

The second man on that list is David Puig. Puig, like a former Spaniard who played at ASU, has caught the eyes of those in the golf community with his iron and short game. 
"I think David is definitely one of the best players in the country," Thurmond said. "You look at the world amateur golf rankings, he's ranked number seven right now. … He is an incredible iron player, short game player, putter, competitor, and shotmaker. … I think he's in a good spot."
While the Sun Devils lost Kevin Yu to the Korn Ferry tour, they bring in a recruiting class that Andersen believes is ready to contribute as soon as they hit the course. The trio of Joselle Ballester, Kiko Coelho, and Preston Summerhays have already gotten accustomed to tough competition and are primed to add to a building culture of success.
"They're already used to tough, demanding courses that we see week in and week out," Andersen said." The games of these freshmen I know Preston is an amazing ball striker. I haven't seen anybody hit it as far as Jose … and Kiko's got a really nice short game."
With a team stacked with depth and experience, Andersen believes the Sun Devils are poised for another run at a NCAA title.
"I think we're just going to pick up right where we left off," Andersen said. "I know everybody on the team is still really hungry to accomplish what we couldn't accomplish last year, which is winning a national championship."