By Tim Iannello
TEMPE – Sophomore David Puig wasn’t expected to be Arizona State’s hottest golfer this season. That honor was supposed to go to Chun An Yu, the fifth-ranked amateur in the world.
But it is Puig who has a chance to place his name alongside Phil Mickelson’s in the ASU record book by capturing the individual championship at The Prestige in Palm Desert, California, on Feb. 15-17.
If Puig can pull it off, it would be his third consecutive individual victory, tying him with Mickelson for the school record for consecutive individual tournament championships.
And that is rare company.
Mickelson won 16 times during his four-year ASU career, including four times during his junior season and ticked off consecutive victories in March and April of 1991 at the Golf Digest Invitational, Morris Williams Invitational and the Sun Devil Thunderbird Invitational.
Ironically, that was also the only season that Mickelson failed to win the NCAA championship – he finished fourth as a junior. He won NCAA titles as a freshman, sophomore and senior at ASU, and was a four-time All-American.
Now, 30 years later, Puig is off to a remarkable start, winning his first two individual tournaments including a record 9-stroke victory at the The Southwestern Invitational and a 4-stroke win at the Amer Ari in Waikoloa, Hawaii.
Neither Puig nor ASU coach Matt Thurmond was aware that Puig was on the cusp of matching Mickelson’s three-tournament win streak until just a few days before the Sun Devils teed off at the PGA West Norman Course Monday in Palm Desert, California at The Prestige.
Needless to say, Thurmond was excited to learn that Puig can make Sun Devil history with a win.
“That would be awesome.” Thurmond said “I mean, even to be talking about, ‘Hey, David Puig could maybe tie Phil Mickelson for this record that’s never been done except for Phil.’ That’s really, really cool. He’s sitting next to me; he didn’t know that either, and so he’s excited.”
Puig admitted the prospect of matching Mickelson’s accomplishment adds some pressure this week.
“Honestly, I didn’t know that just Phil Mickelson did that,” he said. “So I think now I have pressure on me. I want to win this thing. And I want to be in the history of the Sun Devils family. I think that’s really, really important for me.”
Thurmond is impressed by Puig’s fast start, which has come in dominant fashion. The back-to-back victories have moved the young Spaniard up to 15th in the most recent World Amateur Golf Ranking.
“I mean, he won two tournaments by nine strokes and four strokes. No one does that,” said Thurmond, who credits the work Puig did on his game after his freshman season abruptly came to an end because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Puig played in only four tournaments as a freshman, with a best finish of 10th at the Cabo Collegiate.
“I think he’s handled it really well,” Thurmond said of the circumstances. “He’s practiced a lot. He’s an extremely hard worker, and so whether there’s a tournament or not, he’s going to be out there practicing.”
The question now is whether that work will pay off with a third-straight victory, giving Puig a place alongside one of the best in collegiate golf history.