STEADY COURSE – Matt and Kathryn Thurmond feel right at home in the Phoenix area, where he is the award-winning head coach of the Arizona State University men’s golf team. But Matt’s roots are in Skagit County, with family ties in both Burlington and La Conner. – Photo courtesy of the Thurmond family
A new Skagit County Historical Museum exhibit highlights the area’s hometown sports heroes. Matt Thurmond, the reigning Pac-12 Men’s Golf Coach of the Year, fills a unique category in that regard. He’s a Hometown Hero 2.0. A graduate of Burlington-Edison High School, Thurmond is also claimed by La Conner, and rightfully so. His parents, Joe and Kathy Thurmond, are La Conner High alums, as are other of his family members. His sister and brother-in-law, Kate and Dr. Brandon Atkinson, recently opened La Conner Dental on Maple Avenue. Formerly head coach at the University of Washington, where his charges included numerous All-Americans and future pros, Thurmond earned top Pac-12 coaching honors in his third campaign in Tempe after leading Arizona State University to a No. 2 national ranking and berth in the 2019 NCAA championship field. He had twice previously been named conference Coach of the Year during 15 seasons at the UW, which under his watch was a perennial national title contender. Sports was a big part of Thurmond’s life from the get-go. But unlike brothers Adam and John, the latter of whom is now a teacher and head baseball coach at B-EHS, he embraced golf more so than the traditional team sports, though Thurmond did end up becoming a very good basketball player. “Matt,” his dad says, “has been driven about golf since he was four or five-years-old.” He started by chipping shots across the family’s driveway from one section of lawn to another, using a wedge his mom had shortened to reach a makeshift green in their yard. His devotion to golf, at such a young age, drew the attention of Carl Welty, then the pro at Skagit Golf & Country Club, whose members universally and enthusiastically supported Thurmond as his game developed. He took nothing for granted, responding with thousands of hours of practice, travel and competition at youth and high school tournaments. “The other kids,” Thurmond’s aunt, Maureen Harlan, of La Conner, recalls, “couldn’t understand when they went off to play baseball somewhere why he wanted to go play golf instead.” Thurmond and good friend Paul Walker would go on to soar atop leaderboards at various Washington state junior golf contests and as members of superb B-EHS championship teams in the 1990s. Colleges took note. Thurmond, a top student and campus leader, received a golf scholarship from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He made an immediate impact, earning accolades as Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Freshman of the Year. After returning from a two-year mission to Venezuela, Thurmond became the BYU team captain and was recognized as an Academic All-American. A pro career loomed. But soon Thurmond found two things he loved more than the PGA Tour – marriage and coaching. After graduation, he wed WAC women’s high jump title winner Kathryn Sorenson. “He played as a pro for a short time,” Joe says, “then realized his family was more important.” Thurmond would accept a position as a BYU assistant coach. While at his alma mater, he became close with the Miller family, whose patriarch, Johnny Miller, won the 1973 U.S. Open and for nearly 30 years was lead golf analyst for NBC Sports. “The Millers,” says Joe, “were a big part of Matt’s growth as a coach.” Thurmond’s work as a BYU assistant was much admired by coaches around the country. Among those most impressed was Washington’s O.D. Vincent, the 1999 national coach of the year, who added Thurmond to the Husky staff. Matt and Kathryn moved to the Seattle area, raising their three daughters there. When Vincent, now the head coach at Duke, left Montlake it was Thurmond who was named to replace him. That proved a good move for both Thurmond and the Huskies, who enjoyed seven Top Ten finishes during his tenure. While at Washington, Thurmond not only guided top-notch Husky teams but also spearheaded major facility upgrades for the program, likewise a priority since his arrival at ASU in 2016. He had been the top candidate there to replace Tim Mickelson, brother of PGA superstar Phil Mickelson, at the Sun Devil helm. “Matt Thurmond’s background at Washington and his record of success is right in line with the direction we are headed with the men’s golf program,” ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson told the media at the time. “Beyond his ability to coach top-level talent, his skill at directing capital projects and fundraising within the golf community will prove invaluable.” Thurmond has rewarded that confidence on several levels. With the help of many, including the legendary Phil Mickelson, Thurmond has unveiled a new state of the art indoor-outdoor practice complex at ASU. “Matt and Kathryn accepted the position at ASU wanting a new challenge,” Joe told the Weekly News. “ASU is considered one of the top two programs in America.” Thurmond has had little to time to bask in the glow of his conference coach of the year selection. “He travels all over the world,” Joe says, “for recruiting, booster club trips and to watch the players on his team play. These are definitely exciting times for us.” And the best could well yet be to come. That’s because Thurmond and Arizona State will welcome back the nucleus of its team in 2020, a roster that includes an All-American, the defending European amateur champion and two prized freshmen recruits.