Johnson turns pro; ASU left with 3 players

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Alison LeeUCLA  69.59 
2Annie ParkUSC  69.73 
3Yu LiuDuke  69.81 
4Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.00 
5Gaby LopezArkansas  70.01 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Southern California 70.32 
2UCLA 70.60 
3Duke 70.79 
4Stanford 71.49  10 
5Arkansas 71.52 

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(Clockwise from top left) Liisa Kelo, Jaclyn Sweeney, Giulia Molinaro, Jennifer Johnson, Alessia Knight, Carlota Ciganda, head coach Melissa Luellen, Larissa Eruera, assistant coach Missy Farr-Kaye.

Six months ago, I spent a day in Tempe with Arizona State’s top-ranked women’s golf team. There was a lot of talk about family and unity, and just before a qualifying round, the 10-player team gathered ’round their two coaches for a nice group shot. 

How quickly things can change: Melissa’s Luellen roster has dwindled from 10 to 3.

From the outside, Luellen realizes people are probably looking at her program and thinking “What’s happening at ASU?”

Jennifer Johnson told Luellen earlier this week that she plans to turn professional after the U.S. Women’s Open. Johnson, of course, was the NGCA Freshman of the Year and finished runner-up at both the NCAA Championship and U.S. Women’s Amateur. She also secured the winning point for the U.S. Curtis team.

“I really thought we’d have her for another year,” Luellen said. “I think being around all those young girls at Curtis Cup who are turning pro probably sounded very exciting.”

Johnson received her exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open via her runner-up finish at the Amateur, which means she must remain amateur to keep the spot. She then plans to play the Duramed Futures Tour and LPGA Q-School.

“It was hard for me to be away from my coach at home and not really have my dad, because he helps me with my swing too,” Johnson said. “The school part of college kind of took away from golf.”

Johnson became the third ASU player in five years to win Freshman of the Year. Louise Stahle left after one year and has struggled greatly as a professional. Anna Nordqvist left after 2 1/2 years and is ranked No. 6 in the world.

Johnson said she looked at the final college rankings and realized there weren’t many seniors in the top 50. She also noticed there weren’t many players with four-year degrees lighting it up on the LPGA. 

“I wanted to do what was best for my game,” she said.

As for the rest of Luellen’s team, there has been a lot of movement this summer. Luellen chose not to invite back Alessia Knight and Larissa Eruera, two freshmen who were kicked off the team for behavioral issues. Luellen wouldn’t elaborate, except to say that Knight transferred to San Diego State and Eruera headed to Texas.

Red-shirt freshman Rebecca Schneider was a walk-on at ASU but received a scholarship to play at San Diego State. Marie Simonsen, a freshman from Norway, will play on the golf team at Scottsdale Community College.

None of those players was a starter on last year’s team.

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Carlota Ciganda

“I know in my heart I made the right decisions,” Luellen said. “I don’t regret any of them.”

The three players set to return to Tempe form a solid core: Carlota Ciganda, Jaclyn Sweeney and Giulia Molinaro. Luellen hopes Laura Blanco, an incoming freshman who has signed a national letter of intent with ASU, will have the SAT scores needed to come in the fall. Otherwise, her players might compete as individuals that first semester.

Luellen said all of her scholarships are committed through 2011, and she expects to have two more players join the team in January.

“By spring, we’ll be a healthy team,” she said.

Just a smaller family.

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