May couldn’t have turned out better for Grayhawk Golf Club.
Citing the temperate weather, Phil Mickleson’s PGA Championship win and hosting the 2021 NCAA Golf Championships, Grayhawk’s director of golf, Joe Shershenovich, said he’s thrilled with how the month is shaking out.
The men’s championship kicked off May 21 with the first round of stroke play and will culminate Wednesday when the first team champion since 2019 is crowned.
The team that comes away with the title will be the first winner in a three-year run for Grayhawk, which will host the tournament until 2023.
The club won the bid in 2017 and has prepared for nearly four years. It worked closely with Arizona State to make the tournament possible.
“We’ve learned a lot about each other,” Shershenovich said. “It’s unbelievable what’s going on at this university. I’m really proud of it.”
Shershenovich is also grateful for the support of the Grayhawk community. Over 500 Grayhawk regulars signed up to help make the men’s and women’s championships run. Volunteers have done everything from spotting balls to running scores to filling coolers over the course of the two tournaments.
He believes that support comes because Grayhawk is a public course, open to anyone, and said many regulars told him they’re excited to return to the course and play where a champion was crowned.
Shershenovich praised Ernie Pock, the director of agronomy, for the condition of the course.
“I’ve been getting texts from people all over the country as to how great it looks,” Shershenovich said.
After traveling to nine tournaments across the country to compete, the Arizona State men’s golf team is glad to close its season at home. Though they aren’t technically the home team, coach Matt Thurmond believes the Sun Devils have a small home course advantage because they know how balls fly in the heat and how to adjust for wind on the course. Senior Chun An Yu, who also goes by Kevin, agreed, saying desert golf is different from golf in other climates, so the team is prepared for the conditions.
David Puig, an ASU sophomore from Spain, said his family will be avidly refreshing Golfstat to see how the tournament is going. He is grateful for the location of the tournament and the backing of the community.
“It’s really good to have a lot of fans, a lot of support, but there’s a lot of nerves, too, because you want to play good here at home,” he said.
The Sun Devils kick off the tournament as the No. 10 seed.
The team finished second, after Arizona, in the Pac-12 Tournament. That result is ASU’s best since they won the title in 2008. The next weekend they competed in the Albuquerque Regional, also placing second and moving on to this weekend’s contest.
In Albuquerque, Puig led the Sun Devils, coming in eighth at 8 under. Yu joined Puig to round out the top 10, finishing 10th.
Puig is also a finalist for the Haskins Award, given to the top Division I golfer each year. Puig won two tournaments and enjoyed top 10 finishes in five others. He also won the Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year Award.
“I’m really happy for it,” Puig said. “I know if I play good maybe I have a chance and, if I play bad, well, I don’t have a chance. I don’t need to focus that much on that. I don’t want extra pressure or anything.”
Mickelson, an ASU alum, won the Haskins award three times during his tenure at the university.
His legacy is alive and well at Grayhawk. He is an ambassador for Grayhawk, wearing their logo on his bag. Grayhawk also displays memorabilia from his storied career in their restaurant, Phil’s Grill.
Puig said the team was happy for Mickelson after his win.
“He did an awesome job and I know he supports us,” he said. “That’s really helpful to have Phil in our family and hopefully we keep the momentum.”
ASU tees off today and Saturday with George and Vanderbilt.
Thurmond believes the Sun Devils can win the tournament this year, saying he would be disappointed if they didn’t but also wouldn’t view it as a failure.
“If that’s the way you live your life you’re going to be a pretty miserable person,” he said. “In this sport, people don’t win very often.”
His hope is that the team’s success at regionals will take some pressure off allow it to play loose.
The team is composed of sophomore Puig, senior Yu, sophomore Ryggs Johnston, senior Mason Andersen and junior Cameron Sisk. Thurmond believes if the players can string together a day where they all play their best, they will be in good shape to win.
“I still think there’s a version of competition that we haven’t had yet which is everybody actually firing on all cylinders,” he said.
Yu finished third in 2019, the last year the championship was held, and has high expectations, too.
Having an extra year to prepare after last year’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic helped Yu’s confidence, he said. As the most experienced member of the team, he emphasized relaxing and enjoying the experience to his teammates as they prepared.
“You guys are really talented,” he said he told them. “Just relax and just be you. Enjoy the course, enjoy the vibes. It’s the biggest tournament in college. You’re not gonna regret this.”
Yu’s teammates look up to him.
“He’s a superstar player,” Puig said. “He never gets mad. He’s always with a smile. He always tries to help you.”
To advance to match play competition, the Sun Devils will have to finish in the top eight after four days and 72 holes of stroke play.
The top eight teams play quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Tuesday with the championship match on Wednesday. The individual national championship award will be given on Monday, after the first cut narrows the field to 15 teams after 54 holes of stroke play.
The championship match will start at 1:35 p.m. Wednesday.
Arizona State hasn’t won the team title since 1996. The last ASU player to win the individual title is Alejandro Canizares, who completed the feat in 2003.
Thurmond said he and Associate Head Coach Armen Kirakossian are grateful to the people who have come together at Grayhawk to make this championship possible.
“Pretty much every day we say to each other, “What a place,’” he said. “And that’s how we feel. This is just truly an amazing place.”
Story by Catie Cheshire, Cronkite News