The Arizona State University (ASU) Sun Devils, featuring Kimberley product Jared du Toit, claimed the 2016 NCAA New Mexico Regional championship by 12 strokes over Texas Christian University (TCU) at the par-72, 7,562-yard University of New Mexico Champions Course Wednesday afternoon.
With a team score of 12-over par (876) over 54 holes of play, the Sun Devils easily burned by TCU, which finished a distant second at 24-over par (888).
Helping the Sun Devils claim the seventh regional championship in program history was du Toit, who nailed down his first top-five finish of the season, coming into the clubhouse at four-over par (220). Sitting atop the individual leaderboard was du Toit’s Sun Devils teammate Jon Rahm, who won his second consecutive regional championship, finishing four-under par and five strokes ahead of second-place Sean Crocker (Southern California, plus-one).
“It definitely feels good,” said du Toit, the top-ranked amateur golfer in Canada and listed at 85th in the world, over the phone from Albuquerque Wednesday afternoon. “You never really know. Just one golf tournament decides your post-season, so it’s good to get it out of the way and finish on top.
“I never really took myself out of position too often. When I did, most of the time I hit a good shot to recover and made quite a few putts over the week, which is nice. I did a good job of keeping it in play.”
With the tournament crown, du Toit and the Sun Devils booked a ticket to the NCAA National Championship (May 27 to June 1) at Eugene Country Club in Oregon.
The low five teams and low individual not from one of those teams at the NCAA New Mexico Regional tournament all advanced to the national championship. ASU and TCU will be joined by Southern California (third, plus-31), South Florida (fourth, plus-35) and San Diego State (fifth, plus-40).
The UNM Champions Course proved a less-than-friendly host over 54 holes as Rahm — the top-ranked amateur in the World Amateur Golf Rankings — was the lone competitor to finish the tournament below par.
“Conditions were tough,” du Toit said. “Day two was really windy, really gusty and the greens got progressively firmer and faster as the week went on. A couple of the rounds, you thought if the conditions were tough they’d make the pins a little easier, but round two especially, they didn’t really do that. Scores were definitely higher that day and even [in round three] scores were fairly high.”
Du Toit fired rounds of 72, 73 and 75 over the course of the week, remaining relatively consistent from start to finish.
His final tour on the UNM Champions Course got off to a rough start Wednesday. After knocking down a birdie on the 544-yard, par-five first hole, the Kimberley native went on to collect five bogeys through the front nine, falling outside the top-five. He then clawed his way back into a tie for fifth by draining a pair of birdies — one on the 402-yard, par-four 12th and another on the 377-yard, par-four 17th — to finish the tournament at four-over.
The 2016 season has been one of monumental proportion for du Toit — his first go around with the Sun Devils after transferring from the University of Idaho and the Vandals golf program at the conclusion of the 2015 campaign.
du Toit was named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team, recognition of his success on the links, with the teams being voted upon by Pac-12 Conference head golf coaches.
“As a golfer and even not as a golfer, I’ve learned so much this year,” du Toit said. “It’s been an awesome year and I can’t express how awesome the guys have been to each other. We really do a good job of blending together. All of us come from completely different places, completely different backgrounds and we mesh together as one. We’re all really good friends.
“My goal was to be first team and I finished off kind of poorly at the Pac-12 Conference Championship and missed [the first team] by one or two spots. It’s just one of those things that you try not to worry about.
“It definitely is very cool to be recognized within the conference.”
The former Selkirk Secondary School student racked up four top-10 finishes during his first season of Pac-12 competition, including at the Alister MacKenzie Invitational (T-8), Amer Ari Invitational (T-10), Prestige at PGA West (seventh) and Lamkin Grips SD Classic (eighth).
With the win, ASU has struck for seven regional titles in its history (1991, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2009, 2016). Rahm was the individual regional winner at the 2015 NCAA San Diego Regional, which he followed up by winning the 2016 Pac-12 crown and now the 2016 NCAA New Mexico Regional.
“It’s been really cool, [Rahm] obviously does a lot of things really well,” du Toit said of playing alongside the globe’s top-ranked amateur golfer. “All of us try to learn off each other. We’ve got a good group and we all kind of learn from each other and try to gain off each other’s strengths.
“We have a lot of fun together and we seem to be peaking at the right time, which is awesome. Hopefully we can keep it going into nationals.”
The Sun Devils have won two NCAA National Championships, the most recent coming 20 years ago in 1996. The first was in 1991. The program has also produced six individual NCAA champions, including Jim Carter (1983), Phil Mickelson (1989, 1990, 1992), Todd Demsey (1993) and Alejandro Canizares (2003).
“This will be my first national championship and from what I’ve heard, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” du Toit said. “You’ve just got to keep yourselves in it.
“We’re so fired up for nationals. It’s been a big goal. Regionals, nothing is really given to you. It’s a huge weight off our back getting through regionals and even nicer that we won it. We’re all really excited to get to nationals and show the people what we can do.”