The Arizona State men’s golf team enters the 2016-17 campaign losing three key seniors, including Ben Hogan Award winner Jon Rahm, to graduation and head coach Tim Mickelson to other interests.
But just like in any other year, expectations are still high for the Sun Devils and first-year head coach Matt Thurmond, who is taking over a young team led by senior Jared du Toit.
"I think the goals are always similar at Arizona State, no matter who’s the coach or who’s playing in tournaments,” says Thurmond. “We are going for a Pac-12 and a national championship. I bring my own mentality and style of coaching obviously, but when you play golf for the maroon and gold you have big goals."
After spending 15 seasons at Washington, Thurmond was looking for something new. That’s when he decided to come to Tempe.
"I love unpredictability, I love change, and I love not knowing what's ahead," Thurmond says. "In fact, I feel uncomfortable when I don't have that."
Arizona State’s former head coach gave a strikingly similar response as Thurmond’s when he left the men’s golf program to become an agent and represent Rahm professionally.
"I never envisioned retiring as a college golf coach," said Mickelson in a statement in August. "Becoming an agent was an exciting and interesting option that was always in the back of my mind. With my background in collegiate golf and knowing the professional world, I thought this was the time to take on a new challenge and transition into a new profession."
A new-look roster for the Sun Devils includes four freshmen and a JC transfer from South Mountain Community College, all who never played under coach Mickelson. Senior Nicolo Galletti says that there was never any tension or carry over after Mickelson’s departure.
"All the returning guys on the team really liked Tim [Mickelson], but we also trusted Matt [Thurmond] from the minute we learned he was hired," Galletti says. "We all know his track record from Washington, and a lot of this team just arrived here this year anyways."
Du Toit is the only member of the team ranked within the top-50 of the men’s World Amateur Golf Rankings, coming in at No. 26. Although as a first year head coach, Thurmond is excited to work with a young team that he knows will improve throughout the year.
"We’re young and very inexperienced, but we have four guys lined up to open tournaments and from there guys just need to step up," says Thurmond. "I am looking forward to seeing one or two guys surprise me and play in a couple of tournaments later on. I think some of these guys can surprise me and surprise themselves."
Thurmond went on to say that this season is going to be an "uphill climb" because of the losses of seniors Rahm, Max Rottluff and Alberto Sanchez, who were an integral part of Arizona State golf since they arrived on campus.
"I had to coach against those guys every year so I know what they meant to this team and to this program," Thurmond says. "It’s never easy coming in the next season losing one guy, and three makes it that much more difficult. We have the talent though to compete this year and we will."
Headed to Illinois:
The Sun Devils begin their season on Friday when they travel to Olympia Fields, Illinois to compete in the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational. Over half of the 15 teams in the field competed in last year’s NCAA Championships.