Freshman of the Year says she’s done with ASU golf

One of Arizona State’s rising young golf stars has decided she has accomplished enough in one year to be able to move on to the next level.

Jennifer Johnson’s star shot across the desert sky, lighting up the Sun Devils’ women’s golf program by earning Freshman of the Year honors and finishing runner-up in the 2010 NCAA individual tournament.

Now, according to a report in the Palm Springs Desert Sun, the graduate of Desert Christian High School in California confirmed that she will turn pro following her participation in the U.S. Women’s Open next week.

She needs to wait until then because she must remain an amateur to be able to use her exemption into the tournament field, something she earned by finishing as runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur last year.

Johnson broke the news to her coach, Melissa Luellen, and her teammates on Monday.

The announcement has to send shock waves through the ASU women’s golf program.  Johnson had a great career ahead of her and had become the face of the future of women’s golf at the school.

During her short-lived career in Tempe, she posted six top-10 finishes in 10 tournaments, was Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, the National Golf Coaches Association (NGCA) Freshman of the Year, and was a Pac-10 First Team selection.  Both the NGCA and Golfweek bestowed First-Team All-American honors on her.

The Sun Devils finished fourth at the NCAA Championship.

Most recently, she was a part of the ASU women’s golf team that helped lead the United States to a win over Great Britain and Ireland at the Curtis Cup a couple of weeks ago.  The freshman was one of the top performers of the tournament, going 3-0-1 in her matches and contributing the winning point for the USA in the singles matches.

She continued to express her interest in returning to ASU in the fall.

But last weekend she competed in the Duramed Futures Tour event in Indiana, part of the LPGA Developmental Tour, and was pleased with her performance, finishing in a tie for 25th place with rounds of  71, 71, and 75.

Thus began the second thoughts about continuing her college career.

“It was kind of like I felt I was going back for the wrong reason, for the people,” she said, in trying to explain her decision to turn pro.  “I really like the team and the coach, and ASU in general.  I just didn’t feel it would help my game much to go back.”

During her final round at the NCAA championship, she had a large gallery following her quest to win the title.  She had put on a good show all through the tournament, starting off with a first-round score of 67 and finishing at 8-under.

Now she has to hope that she can play the kind of golf that will earn that kind of following at the next level.

(Photo: John Mummert/USGA)