Under pressure, Arizona State survives NCAA playoff

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The past few weeks, Arizona State head coach Matt Thurmond would end each practice with a pressure drill. For example, all five players would have to find the fairway, then get up and down from a bunker, then hole a 10-foot putt. And if any player failed a task, they’d all have to start at the beginning. On one occasion it took the Sun Devils an hour to complete. Other times they’d finish the circuit in 10 minutes or less.

On Monday evening at Grayhawk Golf Club, Arizona State found itself in another high-pressure situation – only this one wasn’t a simulation.

After finishing 72 holes of stroke play at 12 over, the Sun Devils squared off against Stanford in a five-man, sudden-death playoff for the right to face top-seeded North Carolina in Tuesday morning’s quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship. It took a little longer than 10 minutes, but on the second round of extra holes, Arizona State made the clutch putts to extend its season.

Michael Mjaaseth got up and down from behind the par-3 16th hole.

Josele Ballester holed a 6-footer for par at the par-4 17th hole.

Luke Potter had 5 feet for par at the par-4 15th hole and made that. As did Ryggs Johnston, from 4 feet for par at the par-4 18th hole.

With both sides tied at even par, it came down to the Sun Devils’ star sophomore Preston Summerhays and the Cardinal’s junior stud Michael Thorbjornsen, who had chipped in for birdie on No. 18 in the first round of extras. Facing 10 feet up the hill for birdie at the par-4 14th hole, Summerhays drained the putt to send Arizona State into match play for the third straight season at Grayhawk.

“Those were huge putts we made to win, and we needed it all,” Thurmond said, “and every one of those guys are gonna have those putts tomorrow on a big hole in a big match, and hopefully they’ll go in.”

Make no mistake, though; Thurmond’s squad has been facing pressure for three years, ever since Grayhawk hosted its first national championship in 2021. That year, Arizona State made the semifinals before losing to Oklahoma. And then last year, the Sun Devils fell to Texas in the final.

Spot the trend? With one shot left at home, it’s very much NCAA title or bust for Arizona State.

“It sounds super arrogant to say something like this, but we just have so much more stress than a lot teams,” Thurmond said. “Expectations for us are immensely high. Everywhere these guys go, every day, people asking us, ‘Are you guys gonna win it this year?’”

Source: golfchannel.com

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