(Photo: Sun Devil Athletics)
Heading into the final day of the the ASU Thunderbird Invitational, No. 5 ASU was one shot behind the leader No. 22 San Diego State, at 17 under par. However, after shooting 7 shots higher than their first or second round scores in Sunday’s final round, the Sun Devils let another possible victory slip through the cracks.
In the Sun Devils final round the team started off hot, collectively playing holes 1-3 in five under giving themselves an early three stroke lead over San Diego State.
The early run was highlighted by seniors Max Rottluff and Jon Rahm. Rottluff started his round with consecutive birdies on holes one and two while Rahm also threw in consecutive birdies of his own on holes two and three.
Rottluff followed with three bogies on holes 5, 9, and 11. Rottluff steadied his ship with a birdie on the par-5 14th hole, getting himself back to even par on the day.
With a three-day total of 207, Rottluff secured his third top-ten finish in the ASU Thunderbird Invitational in his four years at ASU.
However, the man of the hour was Rahm, who finished the third round with a score of 68 (-3). With the finish, Rahm became the first Sun Devil player to win the ASU Thunderbird Invitational three times.
Rahm’s final round was highlighted by bogey-free front nine along with a back nine eagle on the par-5 14th and a birdie on the par-5 17th to secure his victory.
Rahm spoke to his success this week en route to his title defense.
“I hit it really good off the tee, pretty long and straight and that makes it a lot easier,” he said. “This course is not the longest, if you keep it in the fairway you make it easier.”
With his ninth collegiate victory, Rahm now moves into 2nd place all-time in victories at ASU only trailing Phil Mickelson who has 16.
“I like to say that I’m one of the best right-handers to ever play at ASU,” Rahm chuckled.
He later called his career success a “huge honor.”
“I really wasn’t thinking about that [career win total] this week, I’ve thought about it before and maybe pressured myself,” he said. “But to be the second-best is a huge honor and something to be proud of.”
Rahm has now recorded a top-ten finish in all nine events this golf season and in the top-ten of 21 of his 23 international starts. He said that he realized how consistent he was as a player when Mickelson pointed this stat out to him.
The golfer recognizes the improvements he’s made this year, saying that even when he doesn’t play well, he’s in contention. His coach acknowledged the same.
“He’s continued to mature [on the golf course] and because of that maturity that has taken place over the last three and a half years I believe he is going to have a very very good career at the next level too,” Mickelson said.
While Rahm and Rottluff had good performances, the rest of the ASU squad had a rather poor week. Even with Rahm (-15) and Rottluff (-6), the Sun Devils had a cumulative total of -16 for the week. They finished in fourth place overall.
Iowa State took home the title with a three round total of -20, finishing just ahead of No. 22 ranked San Diego State (-19).
Mickelson summed up his thoughts on his team’s performance this week.
“Overall it was a disappointing week because we didn’t defend our title on our home golf course,” he said. “But we had a few guys struggle and to still have a chance coming down the stretch was nice, at least puts ourselves where we have a chance to compete even when we’re not at our best.”
Although disappointed in his team’s finish, Mickelson couldn’t have been more excited in his senior victor.
“Jon has meant a tremendous amount to this program over the last four years,” he said.
ASU’s golf team looks to finish better in their next tournament, the Western Intercollegiate in Fresno on April 12.