New ASU Coach to Lean on Lefty

Huff’s Stuff AZGA Arizona Golf Blog – Arizona Golf Authority

Seldom do coaching changes in college golf merit big headlines. But that rule of thumb was bent back nicely over the weekend when Arizona State confirmed that Tim Mickelson – the younger brother of PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson – will be the new men’s coach of the Sun Devils.

Tim Mickelson, who led the University of San Diego to four West Coast Conference championships and three straight NCAA appearances in his eight years in charge of the Toreros, takes over for Randy Lein, who was fired three weeks ago after 18 years in charge of the ASU program.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave San Diego, a wonderful place where my roots are, where my family still lives, and where I’ve worked for most of my adult life,’’ said Mickelson, who is 33 — or eight years younger than his brother.

“But getting a chance to lead a storied program like ASU, where I went to school for three years and where Phil was an All-American (four times), that’s really a dream job for me. Without question, with everything the ASU program has going for it, including one of the best facilities in the country, it’s one of the most coveted jobs in college golf.’’

Mickelson said his new contract “is for more than one year, but I really don’t want to get into the specifics.’’ And he downplayed the idea that his brother had urged him to take the job.

“It wasn’t any one person that influenced me,’’ Mickelson said. “It was the entire Phoenix golf community, which is a big one that really does care about and support the ASU program.’’

ASU had fallen on hard times under Lein, with only one tournament win punctuated by several disappointing Pac-10 and NCAA finishes in the past two seasons. This past year, the Sun Devils finished ninth in the conference and 18th at the NCAA tournament, where they entered as the 20th seed.

Asked how he planned to turn the program around with the cupboard essentially bare (six incoming freshmen), Mickelson said he had a “three-pronged strategy.’’

“It’s kind of like the ASU pitchfork, you know,’’ he said with a laugh. “But, basically, I’ll be trying to recruit three types of players every year, the first being the No. 1 player in Arizona, the second being the No. 1 player in America, and the third being the No. 1 player in the world.

“I’m a very structured coach; that’s the kind of program I built at USD and that’s the kind of program I foresee at ASU. At the same time, we’ll have some fun, like going to the football and basketball games and taking part in other school activities. So we’ll play hard and practice hard, but still allow for the guys to be college kids, too.’’

Mickelson said he was not concerned about a recent story in the local newspaper that reported that the ASU Karsten Course might be sold when its lease along the Rio Salado expires in 2012.

“Anything is possible in this economy,’’ Mickelson said of the ASU Karsten Course, which reportedly could be sold for up to $180 million as raw real estate or possibly turned into a new site for an ASU football stadium.

“But I’ve been assured that’s probably not going to happen for some time, and I’m confident it will be around for a long time, beyond (2012). If eventually that does happen, well, I’d make sure that our next facility would be even better than ASU Karsten.’’

Mickelson also dis-spelled the notion of a rift between himself and Lein, who Mickelson played under for three years before leaving in a dispute over his lack of playing time. The rift stayed in the spotlight for Mickelson’s senior season at Oregon State, where he ended up as the runner-up in the Pac-10 Championship while setting school records for the Beavers for 18, 36, 54 and 72 holes – marks that still stand.

“I have a ton of respect for Randy Lein,’’ said Mickelson, who becomes ASU’s 13th golf coach.

“I know there has been some sentiment out there that there is animosity between the two of us, but that’s really not true. I was unhappy when I left, but Randy and I resolved that a long time ago. And given the fact Randy has won a national championship at ASU (1996) as well as eight Pac-10 titles, and also was a very successful coach at USC, well, I’ve got my work cut out for me.’’

Of course, it will help that Mickelson can occasionally call on his big brother, who along with the late Pat Tillman are probably ASU’s most famous alums. Even though ASU vice president of athletics Lisa Love said in a release announcing his hiring, “Tim Mickelson possesses the qualities of what we’re looking for and not just because of his famous last name,’’ it’s all about the last name if Mickelson is going to turn around the ASU program.

Seriously, if you need a fat check to help out with an expense for the program, or a call to seal the deal with a potential recruit, why not dial up the program’s most well-known student-athlete ever? Hey, it never hurts to have the PGA Tour’s most popular player on your side, right?

“Obviously, I want to get Phil involved,’’ Tim conceded. “He helped me a lot at USD, and that was really nice of him because his loyalty has always been to ASU.

“So we’ll lean on him a little bit if it’s possible.’’

Chances are if Tim Mickelson is as clever as we think he is, he’ll lean on Lefty a lot.

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