Matt Thurmond's golf teams don't prepare for the tense final days of big tournaments by pouring over possible pin placements, scrutinizing shot notes or stressing over weather forecasts the night before.
They play Monopoly and Balderdash.
When they travel to Hawaii playing in a tournament every February, his Huskies got after it on the course in the morning - then became the envy of their competitors by bolting onto the beach with huge smiles each afternoon. Yes, Thurmond's is the only team to pack boogie boards with their golf bags.
The games - golf, board and any kind they can think of - really get going each year when Thurmond takes the team on a retreat to a rented house on Washington's Pacific Coast between fall and spring seasons. This former college English major is also the social-media king among UW coaches. And he sits down to pen old-school, heartfelt letters of inspiration, frustration or explanation to more than 100 friends and supports of Husky Golf after every event during each season.
To hear his best player -- one who played in the 2011 U.S. Open and is among the top amateurs in the world -- tell it, there are two types of coaches in college golf today:
Washington's energetic, innovative, beloved Matt Thurmond.
And everybody else.
"The day I met Matt, I knew I wanted to come here and that I had found a perfect match," Huskies sophomore wonder Chris Williams said. "Just in personality. We like to get after it on the course. But we also like to have fun.
"Other coaches, it was all about golf, golf, golf. All the time. With Matt, yeah, we work hard on our golf games, but then it's, `Go have fun and get your mind off it.' It's college golf. It's supposed to be the time of your life."
It was for James Lepp at UW.
"I knew one thing for sure, wherever we went, everybody knew that we had more fun," the 2006 graduate and native of Abbottsford, British Columbia, said after leaving the program and turning pro.
"Matt is an incredibly intelligent and innovating coach," Lepp said. "But he's just like one of the players, too."
Yet the true beauty of Thurmond's program is that the fun-and-games come with winning, not at the expense of it.
Thurmond explains it in short, philosophical bursts:
• "We are all about having fun but not as an end in and of itself, but as means to an end."
Lepp, who remains in regular contact with his former coach, became the first Canadian to win NCAA individual championship while at UW in 2005. That is the midpoint in Thurmond's tenure overseeing the most successful stretch of golf in Washington's history. UW has made the NCAA tournament in eight of his 10 years as coach, and has finished in the top 11 each of those eight times.
Thurmond's Huskies have won the Pac-10 championship three times - before he took over in 2001 Washington hadn't won the conference since 1988. He has twice been coach of the year in the conference recognized as the toughest in college golf. In 2010, Nick Taylor won the Ben Hogan Award as the nation's best collegiate golfer. He left the program with fellow 2010 NCAA regional medalist Richard Lee.
Williams, UW's only winner of the Pac-10 freshman-of-the-year award, joined Brock Mackenzie as the only Huskies ever to play in the prestigious Palmer Cup competition between collegians from the United States and Europe.
Williams met Thurmond as a teen, at a tournament in San Diego. They bonded instantly.
"In Hawaii (2009), we were always the first ones on the course each morning - and the first ones on the beach each afternoon," Williams said, proudly. "At the Pac-10s in Phoenix (in 2010), we went go-kart racing. Other players around the Pac-10 are very jealous of what we do. They say, `Man, we wish we could do that.'
Williams won state championships in Idaho while in high school, then turned down warmer-weather universities to sign with UW.
"Matt's the guy you want to play for," he said, simply.
And Williams is the type of player Thurmond wants to coach. The coach, a native of Burlington, Wash., said so this past season in one of the more poignant of his regular letters to friends of Husky golf.
"While driving from Chattanooga to the Atlanta airport after (the 2010) NCAA Championship and reflecting on the ending of a special era I spoke with Richard and Nick about how much the program and I would miss them," Thurmond wrote in one of the letters he sends to about 130 donors to his program after every Huskies tournament. "They both responded saying, `You'll be fine. You have Willy (Chris Williams) and Chaz (classmate Charlie Hughes). They will be better than us.' This was quite an endorsement from Nick and Richard and they did not give it idly.
"They meant it. They may be right."
Few, if any, coaches of a big-time college program in any sport take time to write a letter to outsiders that is so open, with such sincerity -- while in the middle of a season.
"I like doing that. It's one of my strengths, and I like doing it a lot in my coaching," Thurmond, a father of three, said inside the impressive Husky Golf Center and indoor practice facility containing electronic golf toys that he had carved into the south side of Alaska Airlines Arena in 2009. "I love to sit down and think about things and write about them to communicate to people who are at a distance. It feels intimate, but it's just me in my office.
"It's easy for me."
Communicating comes as naturally as a 5-iron for Thurmond. The four-year golf letterwinner at Brigham Young has his own blog, http://coachthurmond.tumblr.com/, in which he answers questions from recruits, families and fans while discussing topics that may or may not be related to golf. One post addressed the peculiarities of Skype and how a recruit can, within NCAA rules, initiate calls to college coaches using the popular video calling tool on the Internet.
"I think I'll start making my Skype address more available," Thurmond quipped on the blog.
His Twitter page notes he is "Aspiring in Wiffle ball, cornhole, traveling, gardening, and eating." That's a good life, eh?
So is being married to two-time Western Athletic Conference champion triple-jumper Kathy Sorenson, who like her husband went to BYU. They have three daughters, Elizabeth, Emily and Hinckley.
While at BYU, Thurmond served as a missionary for his church in Venezuela then returned home to become a WAC Scholar-Athlete and Academic All-American in 1998. Thurmond was an assistant at Washington for coach O.D. Vincent for one year. In the summer of 2001, Vincent resigned to pursue a professional golf career and handed the program over to the then-26-year-old Thurmond.
He's built it to the point there are no rebuilding years at Washington, where national championships are set as the goal each year when the team meets at its winter retreat on the coast in Moclips, Wash., on the edge of the Quinault Indian Reservation. Consistently strong recruiting classes have allowed the Huskies to stay among the nation's elite - and most fun-loving - programs regardless of how many stars graduate or turn pro.
The summer of 2011 was an especially proud one for Thurmond. It was a validation that how he's done it this last decade at Washington, his own, unique way, has been the right way. Williams and freshman Cheng-Tsung Pan each qualified for the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club outside Washington, D.C. Pan, from Taipei, joins Williams to give Thurmond a pair of golfers that each have ascended to the top-10 among amateurs not just in the United States, but the world. And the depth is about to get deeper at UW.
"We might be the only college program that had more than one player that qualified for the (2011) U.S. Open," Thurmond said after watching Williams fulfill a dream and qualify for the nation's pro golf championship by winning a qualifier in Bremerton.
"It's a great (time) for Husky golf."
Then again, isn't it always a great time with Thurmond around?