Thurmond Recaps 2008-09 Season, Palmer Cup
June 11, 2009
SEATTLE -- The 2008-09 season was the best in Washington men's golf program history, as far as head coach Matt Thurmond is concerned.
'I don't see how you can call any other year better than this,' he said Thursday at the new Husky Golf Center in Bank of America Arena. 'This is for sure the most dominant, impressive performance by a team that we've seen here. We've done some cool things before, but this taking it up to the next level -- because it was sustained throughout the year.'
Indeed, the Huskies started about as strong as they finished on the links this season, with a No. 4 ranking by Golfweek -- the highest at the time in UW history -- to begin the year and a No. 3 ranking at its completion. Along the way, the Dawgs won a program record-tying five team titles and record-setting six individual titles, including a Pac-10 Championship in each. It was at the UW-hosted Pac-10 Championship at Seattle Golf Club that the Huskies showcased their ability, defeating the nation's top golf conference by at least 18 strokes on their way to Washington's fifth conference title.
'This wasn't just a Pac-10 Championship, but an absolutely dominating performance,' Thurmond said about his second such title (2005) in eight years at Washington.
Darren Wallace led the way for the Dawgs, shooting an 11-under 277 to become just the fourth Washington individual to win a conference championship. Along the way to the title, Wallace set the competitive course record for the Seattle Golf Club, shooting a 7-under 65 in the third round. He won the tournament by four strokes over teammate and fellow junior Nick Taylor.
'One of the things that, when I look at the year, excites me most is to see just how good Nick and Darren have gotten, and to kind of reflect back to how they were as freshmen,' he said. 'I don't take credit for that, but it's neat to see them develop so much in three years and to know in some way that hopefully we had a part of that.'
While Wallace won the conference title, it was Taylor who was steadily the Huskies' top player. A Ben Hogan Award semifinalist, Taylor's 2008-09 campaign is arguably the best by a Husky golfer, as he was medalist at the CordeValle Collegiate, Hawai'i-Hilo Intercollegiate, Oregon Duck Invite and U.S. Intercollegiate. The Abbotsford, B.C. natives four medals in just this season ties him with Brock Mackenzie for career medals won. Last week, Taylor became the fourth UW First Team All-America selection. That kind of honor doesn't come without being recognized on a conference level, as Taylor was twice named conference Player of the Month (November, March), and became the first Husky to be named Pac-10 Player of the Year -- an honor he shared with USC's Matthew Giles. This year, Taylor tied the record for lowest tournament score (198) and lowest third-round score (63).
Wallace caught fire during the spring portion of the season, finishing with four top-10 finishes in his last five regular season tournaments. The Vancouver, B.C. native was one of a pair of Third-Team, All-American selections, as well as being a First-Team, All Pac-10 honoree.
The Huskies were then a No. 1 seed -- another program first -- at the NCAA Central Regional, where they finished in second place to move onto their ninth NCAA Championship appearance in the last 10 years, and their 21st overall. With a new format to the 2009 Championship that included three rounds of stroke play to decide the individual champ and three rounds of match play to decide the team champion, the Huskies liked their chances -- and rightfully so. After the first three days, the Huskies needed to finish inside the top eight to advance, and they finished third, with Taylor tying for ninth.
Although tying for fifth place at the NCAA Championship didn't meet the goal of a National Championship for this year's group, Thurmond and Company got contributions from most of the players on their roster to give credence to thinking next year could be similar.
'I had high expectations for Richard Lee coming in but you just don't know,' Thurmond said of the junior transfer from Bellevue Community College that was recently named a Third-Team, All-American. 'I think Richard exceeded everyone's expectations, but he probably was about where I expected him to be -- although I tried to keep that quiet.'
Lee began his Division I career with a bang, carding seven top-10 finishes in his first eight tournaments. Lee placed as high as third this year three times and was awarded as a First-Team, All Pac-10 selection.
And when talking about surprise contributions, ironically the Huskies have to look no further than Chris Killmer. After taking his sophomore season off from golf, Killmer had to re-qualify for the team, which didn't take place until just before its second tournament, the Husky Invitational. Out of the 70 golfers at Gold Mountain Golf Club, ironically, Killmer, who wasn't officially part of the team two weeks prior, won the event by three strokes.
'I had no expectations of Chris this year,' Thurmond said. 'That was such a nice surprise to have him and he helped a lot. All of the sudden he comes in and wins a tournament, playing in every tournament for us. And not only that, but he added personality and a flavor to the team. What a great thing for him, taking a year off and not knowing if he was going to make it back onto the team. And now he's as fired up as anybody about next year.'
Filling out the lineup for the NCAA Championship was Tze Huang Choo, who was a Pac-10 Honorable Mention.
'Choo did a nice job with adjusting to things and had a number of strong moments on the course. He didn't finish as well as he'd probably like, but he was a big part of our team,' Thurmond said.
In all, the 2009 Huskies boast the hardware and the records to show for a terrific season.
'Everything was really just a feel-good story for us this year, and that is really rare,' Thurmond said. 'Most years aren't like that -- where you actually exceed expectations.'
And having coaching players to this high of a level doesn't get unnoticed either, as Thurmond was selected to coach the U.S. Palmer Cup. Although Thurmond also won his second Pac-10 Coach of the Year award (2005) and the West Regional Coach of the Year, to coach the Palmer Cup is considered the highest accomplishment in college golf. The Cup, which took place last week, ended with a European victory, 11-13.
'It was really, really awesome players that play with a lot of energy and passion -- that you can only show when you're playing for your country,' he said. 'It came down to the very end and they nipped us.
'But it was really good to be with those other players and realize what the best players do and in some ways it made me think of things we can do a little differently, but mostly it encouraged me to see that we were doing a lot of things right.'