The Huskies’ well-traveled sophomore star is competing for the first time in this week’s NCAA championships in Tulsa, Okla. She’ll come back to Seattle for two days, then leave to represent her native Great Britain as UW’s second participant ever in the 82-year-old, biennial Curtis Cup international competition.
By Gregg Bell
UW Athletics Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Charlotte Thomas has lived all over the world. England. Singapore. Australia. Seattle.
Couple that with her world-class golfing, and Thomas has had many more life experiences than the average 21-year-old college student.
Yet she’s never had two weeks like the ones she’s entering now.
The sophomore standout is with the Huskies in Tulsa, Okla., for the NCAA championships that begin Tuesday. It’s Washington’s 11th appearance in the national finals. That’s out of the 21 appearances UW has had in the 22-year-old NCAA tournament under Hall of Fame coach Mary Lou Mulflur.
Thomas will return from Oklahoma on Saturday. Two days later, Memorial Day, she will leave for St. Louis to join her native Great Britain and Ireland team and compete in the 38th Curtis Cup Match against eight of the top women amateurs from the United States.
Thomas joins current LPGA tour member Paige Mackenzie as the only Huskies selected to a Curtis Cup team.
“That’s really cool,” Thomas said.
Mackenzie, the nation’s top-ranked amateur in 2006, led Washington to a sixth-place finish at that year’s NCAA championships. A couple weeks later she won three of four Curtis Cup matches in Bandon Dunes, Oregon, to help the American team win the trophy first awarded in 1932.
The day before the Huskies left for Oklahoma and the 2014 NCAA finals, Thomas was appreciating how grand these next weeks will be for her and for UW women’s golf.
“It’s going to be crazy and it’s going to be really fun – plus being able to go to the national championship for the first time with my team. It’s just going to be unbelievable, as well,” Thomas said from the second-floor lounge of the Husky Golf Center.
Thomas was making breakfast in her campus-area residence at 9 a.m. this past winter when she began getting calls from her parents, Chris and Fleur, from back in Singapore; that’s where she moved from Surrey, England, when she was 13. It was 2 a.m. in Singapore, and her folks had stayed up to immediately see the 5 p.m. London-time release online of Great Britain and Ireland’s team for the Curtis Cup.
After five calls, Charlotte’s eggs could wait. She learned she was representing her birthplace for the first time in an international competition.
The Curtis Cup is a match-play tournament that pits the top amateurs from the United States against the best amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland.
The first Curtis Cup was held in 1932 at the Wentworth Club outside London. It has gone off every two years since – except for when World War II interrupted competition from 1940-46. The Cup is named after the trophy donated for the first championship by Harriot Curtis, winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1906, and her sister Margaret, the U.S. Amateur winner in 1907, ’11 and ’12.
Thomas, who was born in England and attended high school in Singapore, will represent Great Britain along with seven others.
“Honestly, it was a bit of a surprise, because I hadn’t known I was even on their radar. It was a pleasant surprise,” she said.
“I was just excited to be in contention, at all. To get the pick, I was so happy.”
Thomas has been one of Washington's top players this season, keeping the Huskies in the nation’s top 10 all year before they finished second at the NCAA regional UW just hosted. Thomas began this season with her second collegiate win at the Topy Cup in Japan and has three top-10 finishes.
Her Huskies coach is also pumped. Mulflur was inducted into the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame this winter about the time Thomas found out she was being considered for the Curtis Cup.
Mulflur set her travel reservations for the first week of June in St. Louis the day after Thomas got an e-mail from Britain’s Ladies Golf Union. Not that one that said Thomas had made the Great Britain and Ireland team; the preliminary one that informed Thomas she was even being considered.
Her coach knew she’d make the team.
“It’s just a testament to her hard work. She’s so motivated and wants it so badly. She puts everything into what she does,” Mulflur said. “That’s the kind of player we want to have. That’s the kind of credit you want as a program, that we have players like that.”
Thomas was born and raised in Surrey. She moved across the world to Singapore for her father Chris’ work in advertising when she was 13, and her parents still live there. Her mother Fleur is from New Zealand, so Charlotte has passports from both the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Charlotte spends a lot of her breaks from UW in Melbourne, Australia. That’s where her older brothers Billy and Peter live, plus her training coach since she first moved to Singapore in 2006, Craig McLean.
She returned each summer to England to play in junior events there, and that’s how she caught the eye of Great Britain’s national women’s golf decision makers.
Mulflur and the Huskies didn’t find Thomas. Thomas found UW. Before coming to the United States from Singapore for the junior world championships as a teenager she researched American college golf programs. She formed a list of a half dozen schools she ended up visiting while in the U.S. for the junior worlds. She went to Pac-12 schools plus Wake Forest and Virginia.
Washington was the first visit.
“I had a great connection with the coaches. And the city reminds me a lot of Melbourne,” she said. “I just fell in love with it. It was a gut reaction. I knew it was the place for me.”
Thomas grew up watching on television the Ryder Cup, the biennial competition between the best professional men’s golfers from Europe and the United States. And she knew all about the Solheim Cup, the Ryder Cup equivalent for women’s professional golf, and the Walker Cup, which is men’s amateur golf’s equivalent of the Curtis Cup.
“All I know is it’s an honor to be selected,” she said. “I just feel really grateful to be provided this opportunity. It’s a really prestigious event and to be able to represent my country, I haven’t been able to do that before. That’s what I am most excited about.”
Thomas knows one of the other seven golfers on the Great Britain and Ireland team for the Curtis Cup: Englishwoman Bronte Law, who golfs for UCLA. She met the team’s coach, called “manager,” Anna Hubbard of Wales, via Skype on her laptop Wednesday.
That laptop comes in handy for Thomas’ game. After each of her Huskies’ events she puts her computer on a chair behind her inside the first-floor putting and chipping turf inside the Husky Golf Center – and then has a coaching session with McLean, who is connected with Thomas in Seattle on Skype from Melbourne.
“It actually works surprisingly well. I didn’t actually do it my freshman year, because I was like, ‘This isn’t going to work,’” Thomas said. “The first time I did it I said, ‘Wow!’ It’s the perfect size screen and view. It all just works really well. It’s really cool.
“I get some strange looks when some of the guys’ team walks in, though.”
Mulflur gushes over how versatile and savvy Thomas is in splendidly hitting tricky and unorthodox shots, such as high draws around trees or low punch-outs from bad lies.
“Her ordinary shots are not basic shots,” the 30-year veteran coach said.
Thomas credits McLean’s teachings in Singapore and later Australia for that.
“He had me trying crazy things,” Thomas said. “I’d be halfway through my backswing and he’d yell, ‘High fade!’ and I’d have to deal with that right then and make that shot.
“He’s incredible. I would not be here without him.”
Last summer Thomas won the English Mid-Amateur Championship, one week after losing a playoff for the English Stroke Play title. As a freshman at UW last year she became the first Husky to win a tournament in her collegiate debut, the Oregon State Invitational in Corvallis.
In the Curtis Cup she is looking forward to relying on her seven teammates for Great Britain and Ireland in foursomes and “four-ball-better-ball” play (two teams of two golfers each, counting the better score for each pair of players at each hole).
The three-day event in St. Louis starts with one round of foursomes and one round of “four ball better ball.” The second day is the same, then the final day is eight matches of singles.
She hasn’t played competitively in this format as a Husky – and won’t this week in the NCAA championships, as this is the final year for stroke play before the women play like the men in match play at the 2015 national championships. But Thomas has experience in the format in which she will play the Curtis Cup.
“I grew up playing match play with my family – very competitively. Three brothers, that’s sort of what happens,” Thomas said, laughing. “And I’ve played a lot of match play in amateur events overseas. A lot of the national amateurs in other countries have match play and then stroke play. I’ve played it in Australia and England.”
She’s only played alternate-shots foursomes competitively once – again with her driven family. They entered an event once while on a supposed summer “holiday.”
NOW THAT’S A HOME VISIT
Mulflur knows that family well. Really well.
After Thomas was wowed on that visit to UW, Mulflur went to Singapore on a unique recruiting trip. NCAA rules prohibit an in-person, off-campus contact with recruits such as Thomas. But coaches can do a home visit. So Mulflur did a home visit – a literal one.
At the generosity of Charlotte’s parents, the Huskies’ coach stayed at Thomas’ family home in Singapore. For three days.
“Every home visit should be like that,” Mulflur said, smiling. “You can hide your warts for three hours. You can’t hide them for three days. I met their whole family and saw their entire routine of life. You can put on a happy face for a few hours. Three days, something’s going to happen. But this was just a beautiful family and parents.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, obviously.”
Now that apple is about to shine for UW on both a national and international stage within a span of two weeks.
Asked how she can compartmentalize the Curtis Cup behind the more-pressing task of the NCAA championships, the about-to-declare communications major with an emphasis in women’s studies laughed.
“I mean, I am just trying to focus on one day a time here, to be honest,” she said, thinking of that day’s classes last week.
“I still can’t really believe it’s happening. I probably won’t believe it until I am there and I realize the extent of it, and how much it means.
“I mean, I still haven’t come off Cloud Nine yet.”