Thurmond To Coach U.S. Palmer Cup Team

Jan. 29, 2009

SEATTLE, Wash. -- For Husky men's golf coach Matt Thurmond, it is important to have pride in what organization he represents.

'From when I was in high school through playing in college at BYU, having that logo on my bag was a thrill for me,' he said. 'I love being able to represent Washington, but to put USA on your shirt -- that is something that I've never been able to do.'

Thurmond, 32, has been selected by the Golf Coaches Association of American on Thursday to coach the United States in the 2009 Palmer Cup.

'Having a Pac-10 coach selected to lead the Palmer Cup Team says a lot about the strength of the conference and what a great coach Matt is,' said Oregon State head coach Brian Watts.

Thurmond has built the resume of a 20-year head coach by producing teams that compete with the best in college golf for the past seven seasons at the University of Washington. The Huskies are ranked No. 12 nationally by Golfweek at the start of the spring season and boast three players in the top 35 rankings in juniors Richard Lee (21), Nick Taylor (25) and Chris Killmer (35). Last season, the Huskies finished seventh at the NCAA Championship tournament.

Thought to be an honor to be even considered to coach in this prestigious tournament, the Palmer Cup is an annual match-play tournament that showcases the nation's top eight collegiate golfers. Similar to its professional counterpart, the Ryder Cup, the U.S. team will compete against Europe's top collegiate golfers.

Scheduled for June 3-5, Thurmond said he is already anxious and excited to start his selection process, which will take place as his Huskies take on the other top golfers in the country throughout the 2009 collegiate season.

'I'll be watching all year with different eyes than in previous years,' Thurmond said about evaluating who to select for his team. 'I'll be watching how other players play and how tough they are.'

This year's Palmer Cup will also have special meaning to its namesake, PGA Tour legend Arnold Palmer, who will be on hand. Cherry Hills Country Club is the site where Palmer led his famous charge during the U.S. Open from seven strokes behind Jack Nicklaus to defeat him by two strokes. It is considered one of the greatest comebacks and wins in U.S. Open history.

The chance to meet a legend of Palmer's stature is enough to make any sports fan giddy, and it is easy to discern Thurmond's excitement, considering any conversation about golf makes his eyes light up. That energy is contagious on Montlake, as the Huskies have made the NCAA tournament in nine out of the past 10 years.

Thurmond addressed the possibility that some of his players will make the trip with him to Denver in order to play at the tournament site, Cherry Hills Country Club. The number of Husky candidates, however, is cut in half, as half of the Washington golfers are from a country outside the United States, including Nick Taylor (Abbotsford, B.C.). But make no mistake, Thurmond has no intention of favoring his own players over any other. The United States holds a 6-5-1 edge over Europe in the cup series, with Europe winning 14-10 in 2008.

'This is not a ceremonial position for me,' said the ever-competitive Thurmond. 'I'm here to coach the team to victory.'

And victory is something he has grown accustomed to in Seattle. Over the past eight years, few coaches have enjoyed the success rivaled by Thurmond, as his teams have earned a trip to the NCAA Championship seven times. He coached 2005 individual medalist James Lepp and 2008 runner-up Taylor.

Over the past eight years, Thurmond has remained content taking the role of the underdog in collegiate golf by leading his often unranked teams into the NCAA Championship and walking away with a top-10 finish. But a team can only overachieve so many times before success becomes the norm, and the Huskies have reached that level.

'Matt has a quiet confidence about him and you see that within his players,' Watts said. 'Matt's program has a family-type atmosphere that I believe will be a great asset to bringing a group of young men together to compete. The players will enjoy his enthusiasm, passion and knowledge for the game. He is a great competitor and win or lose he is a true gentleman and professional.'

In fact, Thurmond's fun-loving style of coaching is becoming known throughout the ranks of college golf. The annual fall tournament, the Husky Invitational, is thought of as much more of a players' tournament. All of the teams are invited to a barbeque, ping pong tournament and whiffle ball game the day before. The idea, as Thurmond puts it, is to embrace individuality and that can only come through providing an environment where everybody can be themselves.

'A great coach used to be someone that could force everybody to fit a certain mold,' he said. 'That's not how we do it. We want everyone to be themselves and bring all their uniqueness, style, special talents and personality to our team.'

An emphasis on easing the pressure has helped his younger players succeed early in their careers in college golf, and helped transfers, such as Lee, who has placed in the top 10 in each of his four tournaments this year, to flourish. When the Huskies aren't on the course, they can often be found together either competing in something else, such as a beach football game, or just messing around on a Nintendo Wii.

'Matt is a well-respected coach throughout the country,' Watts said. 'He has a wonderful demeanor about his coaching style and with his players. Matt has always treated his players like family and they believe in his philosophy. His players love to compete for him because he is more than just a golf coach.'

His success is almost overshadowed by his youth. When Thurmond took over as UW head coach, he was just 26. Entering his eighth year now, he has amassed the accolades of an elite coach. Washington is one of just three Division I programs to place in the top 11 at the NCAA Championship tournament during six of the last seven years. He has coached 11 All-Americans and 14 All-Pac-10 honorees.

But playing college golf is not all fun. In fact, it can be quite demanding, and Thurmond will be the first to say that meeting or exceeding goals on the course takes a unique ability to maintain focus and to pull it when off the course. For that reason, the Huskies play a 54-hole qualifier in one day every year at the Tumble Hill Golf Resort in Cle Elum, Wash. One of the first team functions of the season for the Dawgs, the all-day event builds team chemistry and reminds the Huskies of the attention needed to play at the collegiate level. This crafted combination has kept Thurmond's teams poised to succeed in the postseason, as they routinely demolish expectations at the NCAA Championship.

Those team-building exercises are just as important in nurturing the all-around development of players that Thurmond strives to achieve. During his tenure at Washington, eight players have earned Pac-10 All Academic honors, including two in 2005 -- the same year Thurmond earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. He has also presided over six of the Huskies' top seven finishes at the NCAA Championship, including a program-best third place in 2005.

The results during Washington's past seven years have been staggering, and Thurmond hopes to bring the same success and energy that he brings to Washington Husky Golf to team USA at this year's Palmer Cup. And as always, he will represent.

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