Just a few weeks removed from what she called “the craziest week of my life,” Charlotte Thomas is poised for an emotional repeat.
It might be hard to top winning an NCAA championship – especially in the manner Thomas’ University of Washington team achieved it on May 25 at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club – but the 23-year-old Englishwoman has had enough of a grace period to get refocused for another major amateur competition. She would love nothing more than to add a Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup Match victory this weekend at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club to put an exclamation point on her amateur career.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” said Thomas of the wild ride she’s enjoyed. “The week after nationals, I was emotionally drained. I had a lot of schoolwork to catch up on. Once I got [to Ireland], it’s been a whole other adventure.”
The “madness” began for Thomas, one of three returnees from the 2014 GB&I Team that suffered a 13-7 defeat at St. Louis (Mo.) Country Club, when the Huskies were one of the eight teams to advance to NCAA team match play following 72 holes of stroke play. In team match play, all five players on a team play an 18-hole match, with the team that wins the most matches advancing to the next round.
After beating Virginia in the morning quarterfinals on May 24 – Thomas posted a 5-and-4 win over Lauren Coughlin – Washington faced Pacific-12 Conference rival UCLA in the semifinals that afternoon. Things weren’t looking bright in the late stages. Thomas lost to Curtis Cup teammate Bronte Law, 2 and 1, and freshman Sarah Rhee was 3 down with three to play against Louise Ridderstrom.
“I was so upset because I literally thought we had lost,” said Thomas. “Ten seconds later, I heard a massive scream from two fairways across.”
Rhee remarkably rallied to force extra holes and then holed out a bunker shot for birdie on the 19th hole to put the Huskies into the championship match.
A day later against defending champion Stanford – another Pac-12 rival – the roles reversed. This time, Lauren Kim of Stanford overcame a 3-down deficit with three to play to force extra holes against freshman Julianne Alvarez. Again, Thomas came up short in her match, losing 2 and 1 to Shannon Aubert. Alvarez needed a win to give the Huskies the national title.
“What happened to UCLA the day before happened to us,” said Thomas. “It was equally as crazy.”
Alvarez twice got up and down for par in extra holes, taking the match with a par on No. 20 to set off a wild Huskies celebration, one that Thomas won’t forget. The post-championship party on the Seattle campus is only now starting to subside.
A big welcome party awaited the team upon their return. Coach Mary Lou Mulflur threw out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners baseball game.
Thomas, however, couldn’t celebrate too much. She still had to finish two classes to complete her communications degree and minor in gender, women and sexuality studies. But she won’t be going through commencement ceremonies. Graduation is Saturday and she’ll be 4,500 miles and eight time zones away.
Pomp and Circumstance is being replaced by “God Save the Queen,” the Great Britain national anthem.
“I have a friend bringing my cap and gown for me,” said Thomas. “I will wear it on Saturday. Maybe I will take a [selfie] somewhere.”
Thomas enters this Curtis Cup Match with a different mindset from 2014. Two years ago, she knew few members of the GB&I side, and although she posted a 1-2 record (she beat Erynne Lee in Sunday singles), she’s much more confident this year. Her game has matured and it’s a home game for the side. Team chemistry, she said, is much better.
“Knowing everyone and having the experience, it makes a big difference that you have that connection. I feel more experienced in my preparation like how much I need to see the course and how much rest I need to get,” she said. “Two years ago helped me. Nerves will still be there on the first tee.
“The amount of support we have out here is just ridiculous. Everywhere you go, you see someone who is a fan.”
While Thomas was born in England, her family moved to Singapore when she was 13. Her junior career was solid, but not spectacular, so few American schools recruited her. Thomas, in fact, sent out emails to a number of colleges, hoping for a nibble.
“I was not on anyone’s radar screen,” said Thomas. “I took visits the summer of my junior year [of high school]. I had a gap after my senior year. I took two years [after graduation] to figure it out. U Dub was the first one I visited and I loved it. It reminded me a lot of Melbourne (Australia).”
Thomas’ swing coach, Craig McLean, is based in Australia, where Thomas briefly resided, and her three brothers currently live there. Her parents have relocated to Connecticut, as her father works for a New York City-based advertising agency. But thanks to modern technology, Thomas maintained her instructor/player relationship. Washington’s indoor facility is set up with Wi-Fi, so she could Skype with McLean, whom she visits in person once or twice per year.
Her Washington career featured three victories, including the Pac-12 Preview in Hawaii last fall. But the biggest triumph – from a team perspective – came in late May when the Huskies claimed their first NCAA women’s golf championship.
Now she’s hoping for one last major team victory before entering LPGA Tour Qualifying School this fall.
“This would top it off,” she said. “It’s exciting. I’m ready to go again.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.