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Unleashed: Meet UW's Quintessential Student-Athlete
Release: 05/15/2013
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May 15, 2013

By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
Click here to receive Gregg Bell Unleashed via email each week.

SEATTLE - No matter how he shoots in the NCAA regionals this weekend - heck, before he even picks up a club - Charlie Hughes has already done it right.

Chris Williams and Cheng-Tsung Pan are the biggest guns, not just on the Huskies but in the entire amateur golf world. Yet when top-seeded Washington teed it up Thursday in Tallahassee, Fla., vying for a top-five finish to advance to the NCAA championships for the third time in four years, Huskies from golf to track to softball, from UW staffers and faculty to even Washington's student council, will be rooting for their beloved senior from British Columbia.

See, Hughes has already mastered something far more formidable and lasting than Tallahassee's sprawling, 6,965-yard Golden Eagle Golf Club, on which he shot a 1-under Thursday and where the NCAA regionals run through Saturday.

He's aced college.

And I mean all of it.

"Chaz," as his teammates call him, is the quintessential student-athlete.

He's not the star passing through college on his way into a career in professional sports. He's not the last guy on UW's roster, either. Far from it; Hughes beat Williams, the world's No. 1-ranked amateur, by a half dozen strokes and everyone else by more than that to win the Bandon Dunes Invitational as a sophomore. A year earlier, in 2010 he tied Nick Taylor, Washington's senior All-American and Pac-10 golfer of the year, at the NCAA regionals.

Since then, Hughes has gotten the absolute maximum out of UW.

"'Chaz,' more than anyone I've had, has taken advantage of all these opportunities we have at Washington," Huskies 12th-year coach Matt Thurmond told me Wednesday by telephone during a team practice round in Florida.

"The way he has connected with donors, the way he has given his time volunteering, how he has excelled in the classroom ... Charlie is an amazingly hard worker."

"You certainly learn a lot more when you're challenged and you are really struggling. I'm proud that I have been able to bring my game back and really be ready for regionals."

Despite departing for about a half dozen or more golf trips per academic term, usually for four or five days each, Hughes entered spring quarter with a 3.59 grade-point average. He is on his way to making the dean's list for the fourth time in four years at Washington. And he's not taking lawn mowing. He is a member of UW's acclaimed Michael G. Foster School of Business. He will graduate next month with a degree in operations and supply-chain management.

Hughes is also a campus representative for the Washington Student Athletic Advisory Committee (WSAAC), advancing athletes' concerns and causes inside the Pac-12 and the NCAA.

Beyond all that, he still seeks out the time to cheer from the stands and paint his chest in gold while attending as many UW sports events as Harry the Husky.

"He's one of my favorites," says Huskies junior pitching ace Kaitlin Inglesby, who has seen Hughes lounging in the sun or bundled in the stands among fellow students at many of her home softball games.


All this and more is why Hughes was a national finalist this month for the prestigious Byron Nelson Award. Thurmond nominated Hughes for the honor that goes annually to a graduating senior after equal consideration of his entire collegiate academic and golf careers plus his character and integrity. The Nelson Award committee says it gives particular consideration to a nominee's good citizenship, as portrayed by Byron Nelson over the course of his legendary life and golf career.

Alas, Duke's Brinson Paolini won the 2013 award. Hours after this month's announcement, Hughes tweeted his congratulations to Paolini: "Props to @Brince_P for gettin @ByronNelsonAwrd. Nice goin dude. Shout out to @pac12 having 3 out of 5 finalists too."

How many college kids congratulate rivals in the middle of the season for beating them out for anything, let alone an esteemed national award?

The Nelson Award showed its appreciation for Hughes' class by tweeting back at @chughesgolf: "Congrats to you for being a finalist this year. Was such a pleasure having you be a part of the process. Best wishes!"

Any guy who gets congratulated for enhancing the process of determining one of college golf's premier awards must be pretty cool, eh?

Here's the thing: Paolini is heading into professional golf, to all the money and potential fame that comes with life on the PGA Tour.

Hughes is headed off to enrich the rest of the world beyond sticks and flags and greens and fairways.

Hughes has one career victory under his belt.

He is as complete a Husky as the UW has produced.

Yet, in terms of his game, there is a question as obvious as a huge water hazard in front of a green: Did getting immersed in entrepreneurial studies plus operations and supply systems, attending every Husky sporting event he could find, and going to WSAAC meetings to advocate for student-athletes en route to becoming a supremely rounded person make Hughes less of a golfer than he could have been?

"Possibly, yeah," he said inside a meeting room of the cool Husky Golf Center at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Yes, maybe planning and executing a 10-week bicycle sharing program with a financing plan and feasibility studies, as he did for a class recently, hurt his putting and driving.

So be it.

"In talking to a lot of college golfers, a lot of guys are here as a stepping stone to the PGA Tour. It's not to go into business, or into engineering, or any other careers out there," Hughes said.

"So, yeah, my first couple years I really battled that, because getting an education has always been very important to my family. They have always said that is the number-one thing. They've said, `If you trip down the stairs and break your arm, you might be the best golfer out there but you have to secure your future.'"

The day after we talked, Hughes made himself feel pretty secure in his immediate, NCAA-tournament future. He shot a 62 at Broadmoor Golf Club. It was the best round he's ever had.

Sure, it was practice. But it was two strokes off the best round any Husky has ever played in competition.

Now, Thurmond says for the first time Hughes is contemplating a possible career in pro golf after graduation next month.

"He's had an amazing dedication to all he's done. He's had just a great college experience," Thurmond said. "And it's not too late for him to play professional golf.

"If he committed to it, it's a very realistic goal."


Hughes has played on some of America's finest courses. He's been a part of Thurmond's fun-loving team renowned for its zany laughs, go-karting and boogie boarding - then winning -- at tournaments. For its games of corn hole and Balderdash and ice hockey, and for its winter retreats to the Olympic Coast.

Yet ask Hughes for his favorite off-course experience at Washington and he says: "Going to the Huskies sporting events."

It's how he's stayed so connected with his classmates, his fellow athletes - with college life.

"With golf, our practices are off campus. But every Husky sporting event I've just loved going to," he said. "And I've gone to a whole bunch. People always told me to go to football and basketball games, the student sections are great there. But I think I went to around 10 volleyball games this year. I've gone to many softball games. Soccer games. Events and sports I didn't play in high school. I've gotten to a lot of track events.

"The coolest part is when you are coming through campus you see all these different student-athletes. You see them going to the weight room at 6 a.m. You get a feel for the behind-the-scenes part. You know all the work they are putting in to get to that level. So when you can go and watch them compete ... I mean, I've got world-class athletes all around me. And you see them in the classroom. It's just so cool that they are wearing the same purple shirt that you are.

"It's just one of the coolest things ever."

He grew up about an hour east of Vancouver, the younger of two sons to Kevin Hughes (an entrepreneur who runs a fire-department supply company in Burnaby, British Columbia) and his wife Dawne (a microbiologist). When he chose UW out of Thomas Haney Secondary school in Maple Ridge he knew of Washington's academic excellence and athletic successes.

The camaraderie was foreign to him. And exhilarating.

"This part of the experience, you really don't have it at Canadian universities, and I really didn't have it growing up," he said. "I think I've really embraced that part of it - and loved every second of it."

In November, Hughes and teammates Trevor Simsby, Jonathan Sanders and Chris Babcock joined hurdlers and sprinters from UW track in painting gold letters on their chests. Standing inside the Dawg Pack students' section at Alaska Airlines Arena they screamed throughout the Huskies' memorable volleyball win over No. 4 Oregon. It was an epic night during which UW survived 14 match points.

"That was one of the most fun sporting events I've ever been to," Hughes said. "It was such a cool atmosphere. That was somethin'."


Hughes and Williams have been roommates throughout college. They entered the program together in the fall of 2009. That team was dominated by Taylor, another Canadian, and fellow senior Richard Lee, who has won $629,000 this season on the PGA Tour. Hughes tied with Taylor for 19th at the 2010 NCAA West regionals.

Hughes seemed to have arrived with Williams when he won in early 2011 at Bandon Dunes. Hughes had five top-10 finishes as a sophomore, and his scoring average of 72.18 that year was at the time among the best 10 ever over a UW season. He was on the Pac-10's all-academic first team and was second team all-conference in the spring of 2011.

"Things were looking pretty golden," Hughes said. "I rose to the top and I was working hard, but things were coming pretty easily to me."

But after what he calls the best summer of his golfing career, Hughes says he learned during his junior year "how the game can really beat you up."

Bad holes turned into bad days turned into bad tournaments.

"There have been a lot of challenges. I wish I could have been at the top of my game, the No. 1 or 2 guy again," he says now. "But from a team perspective, we've happened to bring in some world-class players. Looking at my senior year, playing in the four-five spot, we've brought in Pan, who is a top-10 amateur. Trevor Simsby has been lights out for months, plus has been a semifinalist for the Hogan Award. He's really brought himself up to a national level.

"Obviously, as an individual you are fighting for spots and you want to be that No. 1 guy. But when you are getting beaten out by guys who are playing in the top 20 in the country you know it is a good thing for the team."

Thurmond picks his lineup of five golfers for each tournament on merit. The final spots go to the winners of intrasquad qualifying at practices.

In February, Hughes had done to him what he had done to upperclassmen as a freshman. Sanders and Babcock each shot under 70 to beat out Hughes in a final qualifying round the week before UW's annual tournament in Hawai'i. Hughes stayed home in Seattle's rain while his teammates golfed on the Islands.

Just as Hughes had gone all in on academics and all in on being a Huskies sports fan, he then went all in on golf. More practice rounds. More putting. More time on the driving range.

On the last weekend of March he was five under after two rounds playing as an individual at the Oregon Duck Invitational. A bad, final-round 81 and 27th-place finish in Eugene didn't trample his resolve.

"I knew my game was there, that I could play," he said.

While teammates scattered for fun, friends and family during spring break in mid April, Hughes stayed near campus. Yep, more practice rounds.

The result? He's peaking entering the NCAA tournament.

"I really put in a full effort in my game. And I feel as good as I have in a long time, which is pretty satisfying to know I brought it back when I needed it," he says. "I've had a couple nice tournaments recently and I feel really good going into regionals.

"You certainly learn a lot more when you're challenged and you are really struggling. I'm proud that I have been able to bring my game back and really be ready for regionals."


For Hughes, being nominated for the Byron Nelson Award validated the choices he's made at UW.

"You know, Byron Nelson was a guy who had one of the best PGA Tour careers out there then retired maybe before his prime was up, and settled down on a ranch and got involved in his charities. Just a really well-rounded citizen," he says. "The award embodies golf and school and citizenship and your role as a teammate.

"So that was actually pretty rewarding to get involved with that. Because certainly there is a tradeoff. Case competitions versus tournaments, or whatever time you allocate. Whenever you golf you are falling behind in school. And whenever you get into school you are falling behind with practices.

"That was nice to get recognized for a well-rounded effort."

This is the essence of Charlie Hughes. It's what makes Hughes so endearing to so many -- even to those who don't know a wedge from a doorstop, or an eagle from the one that is bald and brown and flies free.

"I finally just got to the point that I realized I've always wanted to be well rounded," Hughes says. "I only got one college (tournament) win, and we've had a lot of Huskies win a whole bunch. But I've been able to go to school with some great classmates and I've really enjoyed my time there. I've enjoyed WSAAC and gotten to do fundraisers.

"I'd say I've certainly been involved in Husky sports," he added, grinning.

"I might have been able to make more progress in one area if I hadn't done all that. But when I look back at my whole college time, it's been just a really great experience overall. Early on I battled juggling everything. But looking back at it, it's been really rewarding to be involved in more than just one part of college."

In five or 10 years he would like to own his own company.

If he does, it will be a fun place to work. He credits Thurmond for his expanding his focus beyond narrow fairways to a broader, more fun view of life.

He says he will always remember his coach, his wife and their three children hosting the team for mammoth breakfasts at Thurmond's house in the Seattle suburbs - complete with printed, full menus.

"Stuff like that really means a lot. It just adds to the experience," Hughes says.

Thurmond is glad to hear that. He's often had what he's felt to be something of a "philosophical clash" with Hughes.

For a while, Hughes often equated having fun to being opposite of hard work and, thus, success.

"When I first got here I thought golf had to be this serious thing," Hughes says. "But he's just developed this really strong culture where you work hard, you are here to win, but he was really opened my eyes to making the other times enjoyable. Having fun is one of his core principles. And with our team's success, we do get it done on the course ... but we've had a lot of fun along the way.

"It would just be cool to get involved in something where you can set the culture that Coach Thurmond has."

I asked him if he was feeling a sense of finality that all he has done at Washington is about to end.

"Yeah, there's certainly a sense of finality," he said, nodding. "I wouldn't say it's pressure or this urgency to go out with a bang or with a national championship. It's just kind of like - I don't know - a drive."

Hughes looks at what's capable of, at Williams and Pan - the world's 11th-ranked amateur - being the best tandem in college golf, and he senses this weekend may be the start of Huskies history. Their 12-under team score Thursday had them in second place after the first of the regional's three rounds, four shots behind North Florida.

"How good our team is, we have a shot at a national championship," Hughes says. "It's something our program has never been done before. No men's program at Washington has won one, under the NCAA. Our coaches talk about how in football (its 1991 national title was by poll voting) and rowing (which has won three of the last five Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championships) those were under separate organizations.

"I mean, there's some pretty historic things that could go down in the next four, five weeks.

"That," he said, smiling again, "is pretty exciting."

So is recognizing a most unique golfer and student for all he's done here at UW.

About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.

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