When graduate student Clifford Thompson completed his flight from Broederstroom, South Africa and arrived at GW as the golf team’s only international student in 2017, he was on edge.
To his relief, he received an outpouring of support from his teammates to welcome him to the team upon his arrival. He said before coming to GW, a majority of the team members called him to see how he was feeling with his new transition to the United States and offer support.
“I was nervous as a whole coming to America for the first time,” Thompson. “I never visited, nothing, and I had these guys reach out to me, asked me how I’m doing, what’s up, asking me questions, trying to call me.”
Over the course of two seasons during his freshman and sophomore years, Thompson led the team to its first Atlantic 10 Tournament win in more than 13 years in 2019 and a second NCAA Tournament title a few months later. During his sophomore year, he averaged a 77.4 score finishing T-13th at the Patriot Intercollegiate tournament and garnering a top-30 finish at the Bash at the Beach tournament.
Thompson said his time with GW had been marked by both successes and struggles as an injury during his junior year affected his play in the conference season. He said he worked “really hard” that summer to overcome his injury, marking his proudest moment in the program.
“I guess the main thing is bigger odds, and we play our best for each other, more than anything else,” Thompson said. “And I’ve noticed that each and every one of us, every time we play poorly, we don’t feel bad for ourselves. We feel bad for the team as a whole.”
Thompson said he had to adapt to a more open environment where he needed to be vocal in his classes and adapt to college-level professors as an international student. He said he struggled to find the perfect balance between schoolwork and golf to keep a clear mind during tournaments to concentrate on his play.
“Pretty much understanding what the professor wants and being more vocal in class – back home in South Africa, if you just did your homework and did well on your tests, you’re perfectly fine,” he said.
Thompson said maintaining a familial environment between players has been crucial to the program’s success. He said the team’s support system made him excited to come to GW and not worry about the unknown when he first arrived in the United States.
Thompson said he was very grateful for Head Coach Chuck Scheinost’s support during his time at GW as he gave him the opportunity to come to GW.
“Thanks, Chuck, for giving me the opportunity – that’s the biggest thing for me,” Thompson said. “I got to study at an unbelievable university, and I’m forever in his debt for that.”
Scheinost said the team gave Thompson the nickname “Clifford the Dog” after his arrival due to his fun-loving nature with the team. He said Thompson was an “asset” to the team because he always made the most of the opportunities at GW and always looked out for the team.
“He’s kind of been one of those guys that was a little bit of the glue, the fun-loving guy that everyone could always turn to and talk to and always had the fun stories to tell,” Scheinost said. “And I think that really helped.”
He said Thompson had taken a leadership position on the team, where he helped create a family atmosphere that was lost during the pandemic when the team could no longer live together. Scheinost said Thompson and the other seniors helped the freshmen adjust to the team and set the tone of the team’s expectations for their next few years.
Scheinost said the injuries Thompson suffered throughout his time with the Colonials sidelined him after his junior year. Thompson is currently suffering from an injury that has kept him off the golf course.
“He started out well, and then the injuries kind of derailed him a little bit, so he’s progressed over the course of his time,” Schenoist said. “But it’s a little disappointing because we haven’t got to see Clifford and his full potential because of the injuries.”
Scheinost said that during tournaments, Thompson played a key role in getting everyone fired up and ready to compete, which he will miss in the following years.
“He’s one of those special guys that comes along, and I think his legacy and character will live on for a long time in our program,” he said. “And that’s as much as scores and results are important, but those are things that live on, generally longer. And it’s the mark you make on people and how you change people’s lives.”