Matt Thurmond still remembers the first shot he watched Nick Taylor hit.
It was indirectly through that very shot that Thurmond would recruit Taylor to join the University of Washington Huskies golf team. That club would go on to win two Pac-12 championships. Taylor would capture a Ben Hogan Award and become arguably the most successful golfer in Huskies history.
But he missed that first shot.
Thurmond, who took over the Huskies golf program at the age of 26 in 2001 and now coaches at Arizona State University, said, despite the miss, he saw potential in the youngster from Abbotsford.
“He was young and it was about a 20-foot putt at the Canadian Juniors,” Thurmond said. “His pants were too big and his shoes were dirty and he missed it. But there was something about how we missed it that I liked. You could tell he truly believed he would make it. The next year he started winning tons of stuff and got more on my radar and everyone else’s.”
Taylor was a freshman in 2006-07 and, as is the case with most freshman, did not compete in every tournament. Thurmond said Taylor impressed him with how quickly he fit in on the team in those early years and believed he would continue to be an important part of the team as he matured.
“Nick was very quiet in the recruiting process so the first thing that impressed me and surprised me was just how fun and funny he was,” Thurmond said. “He was always happy – except sometimes he played grouchy on the course – and was a great teammate. He contributed his freshman year, but it was a year that he would say was a disappointment. Even for much of his sophomore year there was a feeling that he wasn’t playing to his potential.”
Scott Alexander, an assistant coach during Taylor’s time with the Huskies, said he also saw the talent early on and felt UW did an excellent job recruiting him. Alexander said that Taylor lacked some of the national exposure that other American golfers had and simply didn’t have the same amount of experience as his American counterparts. But that would soon change.
“His ranking (as a junior golfer) wasn’t as high as it should have been,” Alexander said, of the recruiting process. “So to get him here was great. His freshman year he played well; you could see the talent, but you could really see what a wonderful young man he was. He wasn’t playing all the time but would never complain and would be rooting on his teammates the whole time.”
Thurmond and Alexander both pointed to the spring of 2008 as a turning point for Taylor’s game at the college level. He had a strong finish at the NCAA regionals and then was a runner-up at the NCAA Championships.
“That finish of his sophomore year was huge for his confidence and momentum,” Thurmond said. “It looked like a huge improvement, but he was still just being himself. He always worked hard, always believed in himself, and continuously refined his skill. Once he got a taste of success he seemed to be comfortable wanting more and more.”
Taylor’s leadership ability and his skills at connecting with his teammates was another trait that Thurmond and Alexander raved about. He would regularly organize mini-golf contests, challenge his teammates to make trick shots and even bust open the video game system and have Mario Kart tournaments.
Alexander said one of the team’s main goals at the time was to be the team that had the most fun. He said sometimes it was difficult to recruit talent to Washington, with many believing it rains all the time. One way to counter that was to laugh a lot on and off the golf course. Taylor was a big part in increasing the fun factor. His skills as a leader and teammate shined at Washington.
“He’s nice to everyone, is a genuinely happy person every day, remembers who he is and where he comes from, and he’s hilarious and fun,” Thurmond said. “Add elite golf to all of that and you have pretty much a coach’s dream and perfect teammate. I’ve often said that all you really need in a teammate is someone who cares as much as you do and certainly Nick cared as much as anyone. He played and trained with great passion. He brought that same passion to everything we did off the course too.”
The 2008-09 and 2009-10 years at Washington saw Taylor elevate his college game to one of the best in the country. He won three tournaments, earned Pac-12 player of the year, was named a first team All-American and was typically the Huskies top performer at events. That team also won a conference title.
The following year saw Taylor improve even more. He won the coveted Ben Hogan Award, Pac-12 Player of the Year and was both a first team All-American and a first team All-Pac-10 player. He also played consistently with nine top-10 finishes.
Taylor’s name is all over the Huskies golf record books and he still shares the record for the best first round in school history when he shot a 64 (-7) on April 26, 2010. He was the school’s stroke average leader from 2008 to 2010. His four-round score of 275 (-9) from April 26 to 28, 2010 is the third best in school history.
Alexander and Thurmond both stated that Taylor is likely the best player in school history, and the win at the Canadian Open cements that.
“I would say number one,” Alexander said, when asked about Taylor’s standing in program history. “There are other guys that are close, but he played on the President’s Cup and just the stuff Nick did for us – winning the Hogan Award and blazing the trail for us. We will always think of him as one of the absolute top leaders the program ever had.”
“Along with a few others he could be considered the best to ever play at UW,” Thurmond said. “With three PGA Tour wins it can now be said that he’s the most successful professional to come from UW. Those of us that were around him every day would probably think most about just what it was like to be around him and to compete with him every day. To this day, I’m regularly telling Nick Taylor stories, even to my team at ASU. He’s such a special competitor and is someone anyone and everyone can learn from and look up to.”
Brock Mackenzie in 2018 was the last men’s golfer at Washington to be inducted into that school’s hall of fame and it’s likely that it is only a matter of time before Taylor receives a call of his own.