The No. 1-ranked Arizona State men’s golf team was looking for a challenge to start the 2021 season.
And the University of Arizona players were glad to oblige, giving the Sun Devils all they could handle.
The two teams met Sunday and Monday in the inaugural Copper Cup tournament and the Wildcats jumped at the opportunity to take down the nation’s top-ranked college team. When Sunday’s two rounds of fourball and singles concluded, the Cats led by one point.
And they held that lead throughout much of Monday’s early round of foursome best-ball competition. In order to avoid the upset, ASU needed five wins in the eight singles matches that would conclude the event.
It took a singles win by David Puig over Arizona’s Briggs Duce in the final competition of the second day for the Sun Devils to pull out a narrow 12.5 – 11.5 victory at AK-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa. Puig had to come from behind on the last three holes to notch the victory, using a birdie on the 16th hole to go ahead by a stroke, and then shooting par on the final two holes for the win.
Puig was one of three Sun Devils ranked in the top-20 in the preseason rankings, with Chun An Yu (photo above) leading the pack at No. 4 in the World Amateur rankings. After finishing Sunday 0-1-1, he came back on Monday to win both of his matches.
The senior had considered turning pro after the 2020 season, which had been shortened due to the COVID-19 threat, and has already made three U.S. Open appearances.
The Sun Devils will continue down the schedule, still wearing a target on their backs as the top-ranked team. But that isn’t bothering ASU head coach Matt Thurmond. “One of the things we talk about all the time is that every day we have to go out and re-earn it over and over again, no matter what (the ranking) is.
“We’re not afraid to be ranked No. 1, for sure. But to me, a ranking should only be (made) after someone’s actually done something.”
So now they’ve done something. They beat a good Arizona team that was ranked No. 18 in the country.
The new Copper Cup tournament was the brainchild of Brady Wilson, general manager at AK-Chin, who presented the idea to Thurmond and UA coach Jim Anderson as a way of setting up an annual meeting between the two Pac-12 schools. They set the January date so that the event has become the first tournament of the NCAA golf season.
The Ryder-Cup style of the event provided an opportunity for both eight-man teams to better prepare for the season ahead. “I think this is a great opportunity for both teams to just get a little taste of the match play and to play against another great team and see how your players respond to match play and desert golf,” Thurmond points out.
The Devils will get tested again next week when they join a field of 12 elite teams from around the country at the Southwestern Invitational. Pepperdine College will host the Jan. 25-27 event, which will include the reigning national champion, Stanford University.
After that 54-hole stroke-play team and individual championship event, Thurmond will have a much better idea of how difficult it’s going to be to hold on to its lofty ranking.
And possibly bring home the school’s first national team title since 1996.