The No. 1 ASU women’s golf team showed last week why it is worthy of distinction as the country’s top program.
The Sun Devils won the Northrop Grumman Regional Championship in dominating fashion, finishing ahead of second-place Wake Forrest by 18 strokes.
ASU was led by junior Juliana Murcia, who earned the first individual win of her career with a 1-over 214.
“I thought Juliana Murcia just played extraordinary golf given the conditions and difficulty of the golf course,” ASU coach Melissa Luellen.
Freshman Carlota Ciganda showed few nerves in her collegiate debut.
The Spanish native and two-time European Amateur Champion finished tied for second with a 9-over 222 in her first action as a Sun Devil.
Luellen said her team responded well to surroundings that were less than ideal.
“The conditions were extremely difficult,” the coach said. “I still feel like we left a lot of shots out there, so I’m not exactly completely pleased and satisfied, because there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. But to start out and not have our national champion in the lineup, and to go out and win by 18 — we made a statement.”
ASU was without the services of defending NCAA individual champion Azahara Munoz during the tournament. The senior was recovering from an operation to remove a ganglion cyst.
Before last week’s win, Murcia’s highest finish in a tournament was ninth at last year’s Pac-10 Championships.
But Luellen said she felt a top finish would soon be in the cards for her junior golfer.
“We’ve always known she had it in her to play really good golf,” Luellen said. “She changed some of her clubs over the holiday … and it’s just made a tremendous difference in her ability to go for some pins that she hasn’t been able to in the past.”
With a No. 1 ranking and an early-season win under their belts, the Sun Devils are playing with targets on their backs. Luellen said her team is used to the pressure.
“We’re used to being [No.] 1 or [No.] 2 in recent months, and we realize that it really doesn’t matter until the end of the year,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any added pressure, we’ve just got to go out and try to stay focused on what we’re trying to do.”
The Sun Devils will need that focus when they travel to Puerto Penasco, Mexico, to take part in the Wildcat Invitational.
The team’s unfamiliarity with the course at the Peninsula Golf Club will pose a challenge, Luellen said.
“There are a lot of sand and ice plants, which are very treacherous for a golfer,” the coach said. “It’s a very difficult golf course, so I think the team that manages it well and plays the smartest will be the team that comes out on top.”
ASU will begin play in the 15-team tournament on Monday. Munoz is expected to play for the Sun Devils.
Despite a busy schedule, the team found time to perform some community service over the weekend.
Partnering with APS in its “Power Players” program, the ASU men’s and women’s golf teams put on a clinic for about 40 Tempe middle-school students.
Sun Devil coaches and players gave the students lessons on the finer points of chipping, putting and driving.
“The ratio of students to athletes was pretty good; there was a lot of interaction and the kids had a great time,” Luellen said. “I can’t quite follow what [ASU women’s basketball coach] Charli Turner Thorne does with her team in community service; she sets the mark so high, but we feel community service is really important in giving back to a game that has given us so much.”