One of the most successful UW Athletic Programs that nobody seems to know about is the Husky Men's Golf Team. Since taking over as the Head Coach in 2001, Matt Thurmond has spearheaded one of the most amazing runs for any Husky athletic program in any era. While the "big one" has still escaped his grasp, Husky Men's golf has finished in the top 10 of the NCAAs seven different times, produced 20 All Americans and claimed three Pac 10/12 championships. Among his accomplishments, Thurmond has coached the winner of the Ben Hogan Award, given annually to the nation's top player, two times.
Off the course, Coach Thurmond is a Washington native out of the town of Burlington. He attended BYU where he competed on the golf team winning WAC Freshman of the Year and Academic All American honors. He married a BYU track star and now is the proud father of three daughters.
Here is my Q&A with Huskies Men's Golf Head Coach, Matt Thurmond.
Matt Thurmond: I'm actually at 30K right now on my way to Atlanta for our last Fall tournament so this is easy. I've loved golf from a very young age. It's a perfect fit for my independent personality and very competitive desire. Growing up I had one career path and one back up option. I planned on being a PGA Tour player, but also thought I'd want to be a college basketball coach as a second option. I read all kinds of coaching books at a very young age because they helped me with my golf and fueled my passion for college basketball coaching. So, when my college golf career ended, and a college golf coaching opportunity opened up at BYU where I went to school, it seemed like something I should try. I had an excellent coach in Bruce Brockbank and loved my college golf experience at BYU so the idea of staying involved in college golf appealed to me. I loved it right away and two years later I was the Head Coach at UW.
MT: I didn't touch a golf club for two years. I never doubted returning to golf and probably daydreamed of golf a bit too often during those two years. Those first several months back were brutal. I shed more than a few tears of frustration as I could not get the ball in the hole and had very high expectations for myself. I literally didn't break par for 8 months. I was working so hard but just plain sucked at golf. Then, at about the 8 month point, something clicked and I rattled off a bunch of great rounds in a row and was quickly better than I had been before the two years off. That experience has really helped my coaching and understanding of the things players go through in their career.
| ||You were one of the youngest D1 coaches when you were promoted to head coach back in 2001. In hindsight, do you feel that you were fully prepared for that transition? What were a few of the most important "on the job" lessons that you learned?|
MT: I wasn't fully prepared for sure, and I doubt UW would ever hire a kid like me to the same position again. However, and this has been fairly called arrogance, I had no idea at the time that I wasn't prepared and that I was too young. I've always had a deep inner belief in myself and my ability to do whatever it takes to get results. It's funny that I only realized I wasn't prepared until long after. That self belief can overcome many deficiencies in wisdom and experience. O.D. Vincent was an absolutely incredible mentor to me. He was just amazing and I look up to him so much. One year of working under him would be like 20 years of working under others. So I did get a crash course in coaching as I worked for him my first year at UW when I was an Assistant Coach. That same year I worked for Mary Lou Mulflur as well. I didn't spend as much time with her and the Women's Team, but she taught me a lot as well and I loved that experience.
| ||Whereas many young coaches get the "rebuild" jobs, the 2001 team you took over was a few years removed from a major run in the NCAAs. What unique challenges come along with sustaining program momentum versus rebuilding as a new coach?|
MT: O.D. left the cupboard full for me. They had a big year in 1999 and had used that run to attract some elite recruits. So I had the rare opportunity to join a program that was on the rise and on the cusp of bigger things. My biggest challenge was trying to measure up to O.D. He had recruited these guys and now I was coaching them. I tried my best to be a great coach and did a solid job, but trying to fill O.D.'s shoes and measure up to the standard he set was tough. It pushed me to be better, but it was a lot of pressure. Fortunately, the guys responded well to me and played hard for me and bought into my style and we had a lot of immediate success. I was just 26 and looked just like one of the players. I had to develop of presence and earn the respect of our players, but I was able to do that pretty well I think.
MT: I love this question. Lao Tzu said "a good traveler is not intent on arriving and has no fixed plans." I love that quote because it captures my style and how I like to live. I don't really even like "arriving." If we ever "arrive" I'll probably quit because of boredom. The climb and the journey are so amazing that holding the trophy at the end is usually an emotional let down for me. I never want it to be over. I want to feel like I'm on the 15th tee with a chance to win every day of every year of my career. That's what I love. I love being in the game. We have so far to go. I often say that "every day is the start of a new decade." We've done some great things and special players and teams for sure, but I believe we are just beginning and that momentum is growing. These giants that we've had in our program lay a foundation for our future growth. We'll stand on their shoulders moving forward. We are a very good program, but by no means a dynasty. We can be a dynasty and we have so many more things to do and develop in us to get closer to that. So you can expect even better things ahead. Part of growing in the long-term includes occasional short-term setbacks. We'll have off years and stretches of struggle. Those times are crucial to develop the hardness and depth of character that it will take to get to another level so we embrace all the successes and struggles along the way. We believe time is on our side and with each passing day we are better than the day before. I've got an awesome staff, team, and Husky Golf Family to share this journey with. Big things ahead for UW Men's Golf.
| ||Most fans don't know much about golf recruiting. With a small staff and a lot of territory to cover, how do you approach recruiting? How much depends on athletes marketing themselves to you? Also, how did you get that Canadian pipeline going??|
MT: We certainly focus our attention in certain areas. We've had a lot of success in Washington, British Columbia, Idaho, California, and Asia. That's a great area to draw from and there are more than enough good players in those areas for us to be dynastic. We look at and scout and recruit a very large number of people, but narrow it down quickly to those that fit here and fit our style. I think we can thank James Lepp for starting the Canadian pipeline. He is such a great guy and player that others wanted to follow him. Then Nick, Darren, Kevin, Charlie, Kevin, and Jordan came along and built on it. For kids in the lower mainland of British Columbia we are only a few hours from home. They love coming here and we've built a program worthy of their loyalty and passion.
| ||Seeing CT Pan sporting his purple and gold while representing the UW at the British Open last summer gave me goosebumps. How special was it for you to watch CT compete with the legends of the game at the Royal Liverpool?|
MT: As I've said above, I'm always pushing hard for the future and a little unsatisfied with the present. It keeps me hungry. But sometimes, and the British Open was one of these, you just have to stop and realize how awesome things are. Being at the British Open with Pan, a senior-to-be in our program, and seeing him play at an elite level wearing his UW gear was just amazing. I'm so proud of him.
He'll graduate this Spring and go on to do great things. Very few college teams have ever had a current player in The Open. He'll leave us better than he found us and always make us proud. Our great players are our best ambassadors. Brock Mackenzie wears his UW hat almost every day while winning pro events. Guys like Alex and Chris and Nick have a big purple W on their tour golf bags. They give back to our program, connect with our current players, and follow closely our results. Being able to have a whole world full of Huskies and non-Huskies following Pan at The Open was pretty cool and represents a bit of what has become of our program. If there is a moment of "arrival" that Open was one of them. Still, while there I kept thinking, "okay, how can we have more of our guys here and who is next?" I'd like to be there with a UW player every year.
| ||What young up-and-coming Husky golfers should fans be watching out for this season?|
MT: Corey Pereira may be known to most of our fans after a solid freshman year, but he has greatness in him and will do big things. Two freshmen to keep an eye on are Frank Garber and Jordan Lu. They are off to great starts. Watch out for all of our guys though!
| ||Do you follow UW football? If so, care to give us a prediction for this weekend's trip to Autzen?|
MT: Even in college at BYU I was a huge UW Football fan. I love it and always have. I can't make predictions or the NCAA might hunt me down, but I do like our chances this weekend. Winning on the road is tough, but we are better than they are in the trenches and that is where football games are won.
Thanks to Husky Men's Golf Coach, matt Thurmond, for stopping by the 'Pound and sharing some time with us. The UW Men's Golf team is looking good for this season and should put on a pretty exciting show for all of you Husky fans out there.
If you have a passion for Husky Athletics and/or Golf, don't forget to follow both @UW_MGolf and @MattThumond to keep up with all the news. If you have an interest, but are not on Twitter, fear not. You can sign up for free Husky Golf email updates by clicking on this link.