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Johnston leads Sun Devils to PAC-12 golf team title

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | May 10, 2024 7:00 AM

Led by Libby native Ryggs Johnston, the Arizona State Sun Devil men's golf team emerged victorious May 1 at the 2024 Pac-12 Men's Golf Championship, hosted at Desert Forest Golf Club in Carefree, Arizona.

Johnston had a slow start with a plus-5 in the first five holes, but he shot six-under over his final 67 holes, according to a news release from Arizona State.

Johnston, a four-time state champ for the Loggers, added to an already decorated resume while carding his third consecutive round in the 60s, securing Pac-12 Silver Medalist honors thanks to a second-place finish. 

This season is ASU’s last in the PAC-12. It will join the Big 12 in the 2024-25 academic year. It was the Sun Devil’s first PAC-12 title since 2008.

Freshman Wenyi Ding, the first Sun Devil to both Pac-12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, entered the day in the individual lead and stayed there for a majority of it before finishing in a tie for sixth.

No. 3 Arizona State not only maintained the lead they had built entering the day, but extended it, dominating the rest of the competition on the final day to seal the title. 

Sun Devil men's golf head coach Matt Thurmond secured his fourth overall Pac-12 team championship and the first at the helm in Tempe. ASU adds to their record total of 13 Pac-10/12 team championships since joining the league in 1978-79, which is five more than any other school (USC, 8). 

The Sun Devils saved their best for last, combining for a 352 (-3), which was five strokes better than any other team. Arizona State showed poise and maturity down the stretch, coming through in pressure situations to ensure the title returned to Tempe. It was a total team effort that allowed the Maroon & Gold to pull off a dominant 16-stroke win, the largest margin of victory at a Pac-12 Men's Golf Championship since 2016. 

"This is an exciting accomplishment for our program," coach Thurmond remarked following the victory. "The players put in so much hard work and it is special to see it pay off with a championship. We are proud to be able to represent Arizona State University and follow in the great tradition of Sun Devil Men's Golf."

Four Sun Devils finished in the Top-15, including freshman Connor Williams. He shot a 69 (-2) in the final round of his first Pac-12 Championship to move up 14 spots and into a tie for 13th. Matching him in the move upwards was Preston Summerhays, who skyrocketed an incredible 28 spots before ending in a tie for 15th. Summerhays was dialed in and determined to lead his team a championship, shooting a 66 (-5), the second-lowest score of the day and lowest by any Sun Devil at the event. 

Thurmond’s team needed counting scores from each of the six individuals at different points throughout the four rounds, an indication of the depth of the Sun Devil lineup. Josele Ballester and Michael Mjaaseth each delivered counting scores on the final day and helped ASU cruise to the title. 

Thurmond earned Coach of the Year for the fourth time (also in 2005, 2009 and 2019), tied with Stanford's Conrad Ray for second-most all-time to legendary ASU and USC mentor Randy Lein (seven).

Individually, Johnston, Ding and Summerhays were PAC-12 first-team picks while Ballester was a second-team choice. Wiliams was an All-Freshman team honorable mention pick.

Johnston and the Sun Devils return to action Monday, May 13, at Rancho Santa Fe at The Farms Club for the regional tournament in California.

The Sun Devils are the top seed in the 14-team field with West Coast Conference champion University of San Diego as the host. ASU will be joined by Washington, Oklahoma, California, Oklahoma State, North Florida, Chattanooga, South Florida (AAC champion), West Virginia, Kansas, Wright State (Horizon League champion), Seton Hall (Big East champion) and Winthrop (Big South champion).

ASU is seeking a third straight regional title and 10th overall. Arizona State tied with Arizona in 1991 and with New Mexico in 1998. It won the title outright in 1995, 1999, 2001, 2009, 2016, 2022 and 2023.

The format for the regional tournaments, held May 13-15, is 54 holes. The Sun Devils are seeking their first individual regional champion since 2016 when Jon Rahm repeated his 2015 title.

ASU is ranked third in the May 3 Bushnell Coaches poll, behind only Auburn and Vanderbilt. Pac-12 foes ranked include Washington (ninth), Arizona (12th), California (22nd) and Oregon (24th), while Big 12 future opponent Texas Tech is 15th.