Matt Thurmond: When Golf is a Team Sport

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Editors Note: This article was originally published in 2014, Matt is now the Head Men’s Golf Coach at Arizona State University, entering into his sixth season leading the program. Matt recently joined us in our November 2021 open webinar on ‘Coaches Who Lift Coaches’, which focused on another important aspect of his head coaching role. 

Matt’s record of success extends beyond the team’s competition results. Throughout his 20-year head coaching career at various universities and colleges, Matt has had countless assistant coaches whom he has mentored and aided in the development of with the ultimate goal to put them forward for head coach positions within other teams. Currently, five of Matt’s former assistant coaches are now heading up Division I men’s golf programs. 

Arizona State University Men’s Golf Head Coach, Matt Thurmond, was brought on to lead the program in 2016 and in his first five seasons led ASU to 14 team titles, earned 2019 Pac-12 Coach of the Year, and hired the nation’s top assistant coach. In their most recent 2020-21 season, the team earned two tournament titles and the team notched four All-Americans for the first time since 2009, and its NCAA finish (tied for third) was its best since it won the 1996 title.

What lies behind a successful golf program?

Matt Thurmond

Head Coach, Men’s Golf
University of Washington

  • 2014-15 is his 13th season for the Huskies
  • Seven-time Top-10 NCAA Championships
  • Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2005 & 2009
  • Four-year letterman from 1993-99 at BYU
  • Served as a missionary for his church in Venezuela then returned home to earn recognition as a WAC Scholar-Athlete and Academic All-American in 1998.

“Our players and their parents have been very happy with their experience here and I’m confident most, if not all, would choose us again if doing it all over. They have a good experience here and leave happy. I really enjoy the winning too, but deep down I’m most proud of the overall experience our student-athletes enjoy here.”

 

Golf is often viewed as a sport entirely focused on the individual. Yet, the important question is not whether golf is an individual or team sport, but whether positioning golf as a team sport helps you achieve better performance. The most impressive example of a golf program drawing success through their close-knit team is Matt Thurmond’s at the University of Washington.

On meeting Coach Thurmond, you immediately sense his incredibly strong coaching presence. It’s the kind that is illusive to many coaches and what most aspire to develop. If you ask his players what lies behind their winning reputation they say “we are family” and “we have more fun than any other program”. He reveres their family team culture and has an unwavering commitment to genuinely care for his golfers.

“I decided that the one thing I could be the best at was my relationship with my players and my love for them. I decided that I want to be able to look any parent in the eye and honestly say with full conviction: I will look after your child and care for them more than any other coach you can find. You can fully trust me.”

 

As Head Coach, Matt has achieved a wealth of awards including seven ventures into the top 10 of the NCAA Championship. He says that there is an often missed but significant importance of fostering relationships with the players.

“I’ve always felt I need to be the biggest fan of each of my guys. When I truly enjoy and respect the player my coaching is really good. That connects us in a special way, builds a high level of trust and allows me to make a singular impact in those specific moments when a big learning opportunity presents itself.”

By encouraging a friendly, fun-loving environment, Matt has earned himself a reputation for promoting a healthy attitude for playing the game and working towards success. Though, according to Matt, it isn’t all fun and games.

“A couple of things that just won’t survive in our program are apathy and hostility. We have few rules and function mostly on principles. However, apathy will simply not survive more than a few days with us. We expect passion and drive in our program.”

 

“Unquestionably our best years parallel perfectly with our years of best intra-team leadership.”

 

Matt isn’t someone to shy away from challenges. From his personal experience, adverse times exposed his inner strength and taught him the power of choosing your own thoughts, the importance of empathy and seeing things from another’s perspective. “I often remind my team that the greatest difficulties are our biggest opportunities. If you keep a long-term perspective and value learning and growing, all difficulties are for one’s own good in the end.”

Regarding advice for coaches starting out in their career, Matt encourages a commitment to quality hard work.

“I see so many wanting a short cut. People that do great work will always stand out. Others who know what it means to do great work will immediately notice them.”

 

Learn more about Matt Thurmond in an in-depth Q&A article

Athlete Assessments began working with Matt’s Men’s Golf program at UW in 2009, and has continued to work with the program at Arizona State University since his Head Coach appointment in 2016. 

This article was featured in our People+Sport Magazine: Team Success Edition which is available to read online and in PDF here.

At Athlete Assessments, we’re here to provide you with excellence in service and to help you be your best. If there is anything we can assist you with, please Contact Us.

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