Arizona State men’s golf has been one of the most preeminent programs in the sport for decades.
But for all of its vaunted talent and invariable regular season success, it has been over 25 years since the Sun Devils have played for a national title as a team.
On Saturday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, the Sun Devils delivered the goods and secured a spot in the National Championship finals for the first time since 1996, the last time the team won it all.
The penultimate day of the NCAA Golf National Championship is one of the most grueling days in golf on paper alone. Eight teams begin the day with 18 holes ahead to determine the semifinals, those four that advance earn the right to duel again over another 18 holes to land a spot in the finals.
Then factor in the intense heat of Arizona as summer sets in on the desert, and the day turns into one serious test of a collegiate golfer’s mental and physical capabilities.
It’s not to be designed to be easy, but that’s what makes the Sun Devils’ accomplishments on Saturday afternoon even more commendable.
The Sun Devils began the quarterfinals as the 7th seed, determined by the weekend’s individual play tournament. That set them up with a rematch against Oklahoma, the team that ended Arizona State’s season in the semifinals in 2021.
Both sides traded blows throughout the morning, but as the heat began to rise, so did the Sun Devils play.
Big putts dropped all over the back nine from Mason Andersen and Cameron Sisk. Freshman sensation Preston Summerhays was taking care of business in his match, but in this best of five matches, the Sun Devils needed to find victory with Andersen and Sisk.
Andersen was on the green for birdie at 18, but a sizable distance from a sure thing. Sisk was tied with Oklahoma’s Logan McAllister on the 17th tee.
Sisk found the perfect swing on the driveable par-4. A birdie followed, and a 1 Up advantage put the moment on Andersen.
Andersen got the roll, the line, and the match with a birdie putt on 18. But with the overall score tied at 2-2, Sisk still needed to win or tie the 18th to knock off the Sooners.
He couldn’t. Sisk dropped the 18th to McAllister who sent the match into extra holes. But Sisk got redemption with a clutch putt on the 19th to put the Sun Devils back in the semifinals for the second straight year.
The task would get no easier against Pepperdine, the defending national champions. But Summerhays was out fast again. At the 10th tee, he held a 5 Up lead.
With one match surely squared away, the Sun Devils would have to split the last four to punch their ticket to the finals.
Andersen continued his clutch streak with a win on 17 to even the match. David Puig, who had lost his quarterfinal match, was keeping his opponent Joey Vrzich at an arm’s length. Sisk was going shot-for-shot in his match. Things were looking good.
Until they weren’t.
Andersen threw a dart into the 18th green with a beautiful approach, only to see his shot superseded by Dylan Menate’s massive birdie putt from a tricky downhill spot on the surface.
Summerhays was collapsing, his 5 Up lead had evaporated by the 17th tee.
Now the scenario had shifted, the Sun Devils were treading in dangerous waters, and Pepperdine has the wind at their sails.
But Andersen was nails again with a downhill birdie of his own to force extra holes, and Summerhays capitalized on an unfortunate break from Joe Highsmith’s tee ball, which missed the green by the inches of the lip from the green side bunker.
Summerhays secured 17, and the lead once more. Andersen sunk his winning putt in his extra hole to grab the first point.
Meanwhile, Puig strode to 17 with Vrzich, who needed two putts to extend the match to 18. But he lipped out his 5-footer for par, and handed the second point to the Sun Devils.
Sisk’s match could go either way, and Arizona State was on its way to dropping its last match. The surest bet was Summerhays.
But the freshman’s drive on 18 was errant, and in the right rough. Highsmith, the crafty veteran, found a pure swing to split the fairway.
With the tables set to turn once more, Summerhays slammed the door on Pepperdine’s hopes of a repeat with a magnificent approach into 18, landing it short, curving the ball along the slope to within a few feet of the cup.
Highsmith missed his last effort for birdie, and Summerhays, one of the most talented recruits Sun Devil head coach Matt Thurmond has ever brought in, delivered with an indelible moment and a winning putt.
The Sun Devils are back in the national finals. With 18 holes separating this team from program immortality.
One team stands in their way.
This Sun Devil team has reached peaks not seen from this program in a long time. One summit remains, and it will take another spectacular all-around performance Wednesday afternoon to stand atop college golf once more.