CRONKITE SPORTS

Chun An Yu qualifies for U.S. Open, joining other ASU golf greats

Jun 13, 2018, 2:59 PM | Updated: 3:54 pm
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TEMPE — Arizona State’s Chun An Yu hasn’t even graduated college yet. But starting Thursday he will test his knowledge against golf’s fiercest competitors, including a couple former ASU legends.

Yu punched his ticket to the 2018 U.S. Open last Monday, firing an 8-under 135 score to win the Lake Merced Sectional Qualifier in Daly City, Calif.

He will join six former Sun Devils in the field of 156 players at Shinnecock Hills. Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Pat Perez, Matt Jones and Chez Reavie also all qualified for the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.

Yu started strong with seven birdies in the first round to score 65. He shot a 70 the second day to solidify himself atop the leaderboard and earn a trip to this weekend’s U.S. Open.

The ASU golfer, referred to as Kevin by teammates and coaches, will enter his junior season next year and has already proved to be one of the best young golfers the program has ever seen. Yu’s 71.61 scoring average was second-best by a freshman in Sun Devil history, trailing only Rahm, currently the No. 5-ranked golfer in the world according to Official World Golf Ranking.

“His game is really, really good,” ASU head coach Matt Thurmond said. “If you were to watch Kevin on the range, if you were to watch him in a practice round with the best players in the world … he would look every bit as good.”

On Monday Yu got that chance. He played his first practice round at Shinnecock Hills with Rahm and the 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy. Yu said he was thrilled to play with the best players in the world this weekend, including former ASU legends.

“(It’s) so exciting,” Yu said. “Now that I’m playing in the same field as them, I’m really happy about it.”

Yu also gathered advice from current teammate Mason Andersen, who qualified for last year’s U.S. Open at 18 years old and ended up beating world-renowned players such as Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.

“I think it’s so crucial to stay in the moment, not think about the big crowd and the round,” Andersen said. “Just play your game.”

But Yu said he actually likes a lot of people watching him play. In fact, previous performances prove Yu thrives on pressure-packed situations.

Last month, the Sun Devils were on the verge of being bounced from their Raleigh Regional. ASU needed a birdie from Yu on his final hole to realistically have a chance at forcing a playoff hole with Georgia Tech. Yu hit a beautiful 3-wood down the middle, followed by 187-yard strike directly at the pin. Then, with the pressure of an entire season weighing on him, Yu rolled in the putt for a birdie. The Georgia Tech player ended up with a bogey, sending the Sun Devils to their 54th NCAA Championship appearance.

“All the guys were up on the hill watching,” said ASU assistant coach Armen Kirakossian. “Coach Thurmond and I were standing by the green. He made it look like it wasn’t extremely tense but we all were feeling it. He rolled it in and everyone went crazy — it was awesome.”

Still, the U.S. Open is a different animal than collegiate competition. The massive crowds present first-time competitors with organizational challenges they’ve never faced before. That’s where Kirakossian hopes to provide some stability. Yu will have his assistant coach by his side throughout the tournament as a caddie.

“The first time at the U.S. Open is so overwhelming, just the logistical challenges, there’s so many people everywhere and just getting from one tee to the next and knowing how to get your badges right and how to book your practice rounds. I think the biggest value (Kirakossian) will add is just helping Kevin through all of (that),” Thurmond said.

This year, the United States Golf Association worked with Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, one of the five founding clubs of the USGA, to lengthen the course from the last time the club hosted the U.S. Open in 2004. United States golf officials say course now plays at 7,439 yards compared to 6,994 in 2004. The fairways were also widened from 2004, playing right into one of Yu’s strengths — his laser-like drive.

“(Kevin) hits the ball a long way and he hits it fairly straight too,” Andersen said. “If I had to sum up his game … it’s deadly off the tee.”

But Shinneock Hills also provides unique challenges. The course is maintained like a British links course, positioned on a strip of Long Island between two bays, with little tree cover from the Atlantic Ocean winds.

Luckily for Yu, ASU coaches wanted to the team to work on playing in windy conditions this year. They even scheduled specific events for that purpose.

“We went to Bandon Dunes this year for a tournament for the specific purpose of developing our wind game,” Thurmond said. “I think (Yu) is developing that area of his game and he’s getting better at it.”

Yu did more than develop at Bandon Dunes. He shot 13-under par throughout three days to win the whole tournament.

“What I’ve seen in Kevin is what I’ve seen in a handful of other great players I’ve coached in my career. That is that somehow, someway, they’re way better in (pressure) situations than in normal situations,” Thurmond said. “Most of us have our practice game and our normal game, then when the pressure is really on, we can’t quite summon it.”

And the pressure is really going to be on Yu in his first U.S. Open, but for him, he’s just happy to enjoy the moment and play with the world’s best golfers.

“I try not to think too much about everything, I just try and focus on the moment,” Yu said. “As an amatuer, to get a chance like this, I just want to play good.”

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