Arizona State men’s golf left the NCAA Championships in Scottsdale one month ago just a few match points short from the team matchplay finals. But nobody around the program would characterize the season as a disappointment.
Once again, the team was anchored by Chun An Yu. 2021 was Yu’s final season, and the fifth-year senior capped his decorated collegiate career with a dominant matchplay victory in the semifinals against Oklahoma’s Garrett Reband.
Outside of Yu, just one other Sun Devil won his match. A 3&2 victory for Ryggs Johnston capped off an NCAA Championship debut for the history books, and all signs point that the man from Libby, Montana will be the next great Sun Devil golfer.
Matt Thurmond and the Arizona State coaching staff didn’t know what to make of Johnston when they first heard of a young man winning nearly every tournament he entered in Montana’s junior ranks. After all, the Sun Devils recruit the best junior golfers not just in the United States, but all over the world, and the competition in Montana pales in comparison to places like California, Texas, Florida and Europe.
But the talent was there, no matter who Johnston faced, and he joined the Sun Devils in 2019. His freshman season was full of promise, with a tie for third in his first collegiate tournament, before it was cut short due to the pandemic.
Johnston got creative with his offseason work during quarantine, and he hit the ground running for his sophomore 2021 season. Johnston had three top-ten finishes and posted three rounds of 67 or better in the regular season.
He had passed his first full regular season with flying colors, but how would he perform in his first collegiate postseason? The answer was emphatically answered with 67 (-5) and 66 (-6) in the Pac-12 Tournament first and second rounds.
He kept his tremendous play going at the NCAA Championships a few weeks later. Johnston’s 63 (-7) in round two was the second-best round by a Sun Devil in the school’s history at the tournament. Only John Rahm’s 61 (-9) in 2013 was better.
Johnston finished third in the individual rounds, marking the best Sun Devil finish since Chun An Yu’s tie for third in 2019. Momentum means everything in golf, and Johnston will ride a tidal wave of positive energy into his junior season as the team’s new No. 1 golfer.