It didn’t matter that Arizona State golf standout David Puig was a two-time All-American. The Sun Devils had played well without him so he thought he needed to earn his spot in the lineup after missing some time with a back injury.
Puig did just that. Now he’s hoping to propel the Sun Devils to the NCAA Division I Championship which started on Friday and runs through Wednesday at Scottsdale’s Grayhawk Golf Club.
The Sun Devils, ranked fourth nationally, are coming off an outstanding showing in the Stockton (Calif.) Regional where they shot 17-under in the third and final round to lead the team to a 38-under, 10 strokes better than the second-place finisher Stanford.
Puig, a native of La Garriga, Spain, missed the previous two tournaments with a back injury and he didn’t play in the first round of the regional either. But Coach Matt Thurmond informed him later that night at the team hotel he was going to be back in the lineup when the second round commenced.
Puig was subbed into the lineup for senior James Leow who hadn’t necessarily played badly.
“I really didn’t think I was going to play, then he told me that night I was back in,” Puig said. “Maybe that was good because I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. I just kind of went out there and played. It was a huge boost to my confidence that could help the team.”
Puig responded with rounds of 69 and 67, a combined 8-under, proof he was indeed back better than ever.
Thurmond admitted he didn’t know what to expect when he made the change.
“I had no idea what he’d do, whether he’d shoot a 69 or a 79. I just thought it would be a good idea to get him in the lineup for a round or two before we got here (to the national championship tournament),” Thurmond said. “Now looking back I think maybe that break was good for him. It just gave him a chance to regroup, get his body right, his mind right.”
That appears to have helped. Puig has carried that momentum into the NCAA Tournament being held at Grayhawk for the second of what will be three straight seasons. He opened play on Friday with an even-par 70, one of just 11 players in the 156-man field to shoot even par or better.
He didn’t have quite as good a day in Saturday’s second round, settling for a 4-over 74 for a two-day total of 144.
Puig’s opening round consisted of six birdies, six bogeys and six pars and he didn’t make a par until the seventh hole but his round ended with a birdie on the par 4, 520-yard 18th hole, one of the more difficult holes on the course.
After the round Thurmond took to the podium in the media room
“It’s always a wild ride with David, no matter how well he is playing,” Thurmond laughed. “That’s how it is. That’s a typical David round. What makes me most excited is that birdie on 18. To birdie 18, that is such a hard hole, most everyone is losing shots on that hole including us and that was big, to see it pop up late in the round was massive for us.”
Puig admits wanting to end his season on a high note because the season has been a bit of a personal disappointment. He struggled a bit in the fall events but regrouped and took medalist honors at the prestigious Southwest Intercollegiate at North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, California. It was an event he also won last year as a sophomore and it took a 7-under 65 in the final round to overtake teammate Cameron Sisk for individual honors.
A couple of weeks after that came the back injury.
Now Puig, who also played a lot of soccer growing up in his native country, is hoping to finish his season on a high note. He is playing in the No. 5 slot which he says suits him fine. The Sun Devils boast so much depth that junior Ryggs Johnston, who placed fourth individually last season at nationals, isn’t in the starting lineup which now boasts two true freshmen in Preston Summerhays and Josele Ballester.
Ballester, a native of Castellon, Spain, is the squad’s No. 2 player. The two knew each other from competitive tournaments in their native country and throughout Europe and Puig helped encourage Ballester to come to ASU.
The Sun Devils were 12-over as a team in the second round and find themselves in the middle of the pack heading into Sunday’s third round play after which the field will be trimmed from 30 to 15 teams.
“David is kind of the energy barometer of our team. How he goes, so does our team,” Thurmond said. “He’s really got that energy and that spirit. And when he’s not at his best, which isn’t often, everyone feels that struggle.”
Reach the reporter at Michelle.Gardner@gannett.com or 602 444-4783. Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.
Subscribe to azcentral.com today.