Photo by Rob Sumner/Red Box Pictures – Matt Thurmond and Charlie Hughes at the Kikkor Golf Husky Invitational at Washington National Golf Club.

Born and raised about an hour from Seattle in Burlington, University of Washington men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond developed a passion for golf at a very early age. A scholarship player at BYU, Thurmond spent a year coaching for his alma mater Cougars after he graduated in 1999 before accepting the position of assistant coach for the men’s and women’s teams at UDub. A year later, he was named head coach of the men’s team – a position he has held ever since.

“I was barely 26 when I got that job,” Thurmond recalls. “That’s much too young and inexperienced, but I’m so grateful that they took a chance on me and hopefully they are too.”

Thurmond has led the Huskies to Pac 10 championships in 2005, 2009 and 2010 being named Coach of the Year in 2005 and 2009. He also coached the 2009 Palmer Cup squad at Cherry Hills in Denver.

I caught up with Thurmond to talk golf, social media, recruiting, and the importance of finding just the right balance between competing at a high level on the course and enjoying some down time off.

 

Lining up a crucial putt
Matt Thurmond looks over Nick Taylors shoulder on hole eight during day three of the first round of the NCAA West Regionals at Gold Mountain Golf course in Bremerton, WA. (photo by Jesse Beals)

What have been your best moments as head coach at UDub? 

MT: It’s easy to call the wins the best moments. Each of our three Pac-10/12 were very special. Seeing James Lepp win the NCAAs in 2005 was unforgettable in so many ways. But maybe my best moment was late one night, driving home with then Asst. Coach, Garrett Clegg, after spending the day and evening with a recruit. We were both completely exhausted and for a fleeting moment, we knew we could not possibly do any more than we had done. I don’t feel that very often and it was nice to have a few moments when we truly felt deep in our heart that we could not give any more to our guys, our recruits, and our program. I’ve since found plenty of things to do and improve, but that satisfaction felt pretty amazing for someone who always believes they could and should do more.

What’s the state of college golf?

MT: College golf is in a major upward cycle. The players are better, the coaches are better, and athletics departments value their golf programs more than ever before. We are gaining more exposure in the media and college players are doing great things during and after their college careers at the next level. We are reaping right now and need to make sure we are sowing also because if golf doesn’t continue to grow at all levels it will hurt college golf in the end.

What can be done to widen the audience for college golf?

MT: I think conferences and athletics departments can do a much better job promoting our events. It’s actually a good spectator event if you know what’s going on. The NCAA Championship being on TV will help a lot. I don’t know that we’ll ever get huge ratings on TV and be on SportsCenter all the time. However, I do feel that there is massive opportunity in a virtual audience. It’s realistic to have tens of thousands watching the key events through a dramatically enhanced virtual experience online through live scoring, live video feeds, chat rooms, and background info and stats all wrapped up into one product. People like to follow and know what is happening, but the time it takes to be present for events often makes it unrealistic to draw lots of fans. I think we should value that virtual spectator sitting at home or at work following online much more and provide them a much better experience.

Describe the recruiting process.

MT: For us, that process is different for each recruit. We try to recruit each person as an individual at the pace and with the process that works best for them. Nearly every recruit to make a commit has been on our campus at least once. We’ve often watched them play several times over the course of years. When the time is right we both commit to each other. It’s sort of like dating and getting married. You keep at it and keep at it and try a lot of different things then at some point you just know.

Beyond skill, what qualities and characteristics do you look for in the players you recruit?

MT: By far the most important attribute I look for is people with a very clear sense of themselves and a deep belief in themselves. I’m not talking about sports psychologist-induced positive thinking. I’m talking about people who deep down know they are good, that they deserve success, and that time is on their side so they will produce more and more success with each passing day. In the end, we all get exactly what we truly believe we deserve. It’s often hard to decipher this attribute and we don’t get it right all the time, but we often do. We’ve built our program around the idea of improvement and development and we are looking for learners who will continue to improve while they are here.

What’s the competition like in the PAC 12?

MT: Competition in the Pac-12 is stout. All the coaches work really hard and all the teams have excellent players. Who is on top changes from year to year and we all go through certain cycles. UCLA seems to always be in the mix and Oregon has turned out to be a great rival for us in the Northwest. Stanford is solid and Cal has been exceptional in recent years. I think this year you’ll need to really watch out for USC, Oregon, and Stanford. They’re all loaded.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a coach?

MT: You know, everyone has many challenges no matter what they do, but all challenges almost always come with opportunities. I love coaching young men at this time in their lives. That is always challenging, but it’s awesome. I suppose just staying on top of my coaching game is the biggest challenge. It takes massive amounts of energy to be the type of coach I expect myself to be and it’s not easy to always maintain that level of energy, passion, and will to win. We are never happy with where we are and always want to improve so I would say that the biggest challenge is just not letting that be exhausting. If we do things right, our quest should be invigorating.

What experiences from your own playing days did you take with you into coaching?

MT: I played with a spirit of adventure and pleasure that I think our team has adopted. Also, I had the most amazing college golf experience and always felt so lucky to have it. That is at the core of my coaching. I really feel a deep responsibility to try to provide an even better experience for my team than the one I had. The coolest part of coaching, however, is that it just isn’t about me any more. My guys are the story, not me.

You are someone who places a tremendous emphasis on a balance between grinding on the course and enjoying time off it. Where did this philosophy come from?

MT: We try to work hard and play hard. I’ve been in college since I was 18. I haven’t really grown up because all I do is hang with college kids all the time. So I still just like to have a lot of fun. I believe it is not a diversion, but a competitive strategy. When we have fun on and off the course we are more likely to be in a state of flow and to improve faster, practice longer, and compete better under pressure. Also, I really want this to be the best four years these guys could ever have so I’m always trying to find any little thing we can do make it all more fun. The most fun thing to do is win. In 2005, I made our team go into a room without coaches and stay there until they had a team identity that they all believed it. When they came out they said, “we are going to have more fun than any other team.” We’ve been trying to do that ever since (and before).

What are some of the things you and the team do off the course to bond and “blow off steam”?

MT: This changes all the time depending on who is on the team. We go in cycles of activities. Over the years we’ve been really into bowling, mini putt, boogie boarding, hiking, cornhole, monopoly, cribbage, movies, ping pong, etc. Having fun isn’t really an activity but a way of being and approaching whatever you do. We make seemingly insignificant things a really big deal and take them all the way. We do pretty much everything all the way and that is what makes it so fun.

As someone who utilizes social media more than your average coach, talk a bit about how you use various platforms, including your blog, to connect with potential recruits, their families, and even current players.

MT: I haven’t posted on my recruiting blog for a long time, but I often meet people who still check it so that encourages me to get back on it. That was just about trying to help. Recruiting can be a difficult process to navigate and the stakes in making a good decision are huge. So the blog is to just try to do my little part and offer some advice and info on how to go about the process. All other media mediums are just to try to bring more people into our Husky Golf Family. If all of this is just for a handful of kids, that just seems to narrow. I love sports and many others do too. I like to think that many people get some sort of pleasure by being involved or following our program at some level. If being connected to us and me in some way adds any sort of value to their life then our time and efforts with media are effective.

I’m just really proud of who we are and I think the guys we have in this program are really special people. I want to help people get to know them like I do and feel a part of who and what we are. I also believe in the amazing power of collective thought, will, and interest. Amazing things happen when large numbers of people are thinking the same things and working towards the same worthy causes. In that sense, I think our fans truly are a part of our success.

Matt Thurmond and Nick Taylor
Matt Thurmond and Nick Taylor at the 2010 Ben Hogan Awards ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas. (photo by Susan Corcoran)

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