April 17, 2013
Mary Lou<!> Mulflur has went long and far to put together her 2013 squad, including China to find Ying<!> Luo.
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE - SooBin Kim moved from her native South Korea to British Columbia when she was in fourth grade. Five years after that - five years into learning English -- she began receiving recruiting e-mails from Washington.
Good thing she responded.
Ying Luo is a 4.0 student in her second language, the daughter of a banker and an accountant. She is from Shenzhen, China, a major urban center on the border with Hong Kong. Real estate there is so scarce she grew up golfing mainly on mats of fake grass.
Now she's proving to be for real on the real stuff.
Charlotte Thomas was born and raised in Surrey, England. Before entering eighth grade she left for Singapore as her family followed her father's career as the chief executive atop a worldwide advertising agency. She found the Huskies a couple years ago on the first stop of a five-campus tour of the United States. She says she "was just blown away" by UW.
Our goal is to be the best Husky women's team ever.
She's now returning the favor, wowing her coach, the rest of the Pac-12 and beyond.
This eclectic, international trio are teaming up with Jennifer Yang - also from British Columbia via South Korea - and Hawai'i's Cyd Okino to lead the most talented, youngest and perhaps most diverse lineup Mary Lou Mulflur has had in her 30 years as the Huskies' women's golf coach.
Now is the time to see if it's the best. And to think: the lineup consists of three sophomores and two freshmen, including a walk on.
These young Huskies are so good they were ranked No. 1 in the country earlier this year. They are so young they have been maddeningly inconsistent since. Ranked ninth now, they leave this weekend for the Pac-12 championships in Valencia, Calif.
Yes, it would be sweet to win the school's first team conference crown or to become the first UW team to finish second in the league championships. And it may happen. But Mulflur's pups aren't too young to know their more important test will come at the NCAA regional round that begins May 9.
If they can approach their talent level there, they will qualify for the chance to become the first Huskies team to ever finish in the top five at the NCAA championships. Those begin May 21 in Athens, Ga.
Yet here's the thing: no matter how this season ends up, this supremely talented, exquisitely equipped group aren't going anywhere. They will be together for at least two more years. Kim, the 53rd-ranked amateur in the world, Thomas, ranked 57th, and Luo, who has since earned a partial scholarship at UW, all say they covet a UW degree and won't turn pro until each gets one.
That plus another talented, heralded recruiting class coming in next season, make this the dawn of a golden era in Husky women's golf. This is the deepest, most talented roster Washington has ever had.
"At the beginning of the year we wrote out our goals, and we have pretty specific goals," Thomas said this week.
"Our goal is to be the best Husky women's team ever."
Sure, every team in every sport wants to be better than any one before it.
This one is equipped to be that.
"I always hate that word `potential,' because it means you haven't been good enough," says Mulflur, who in 1983 took over the eight-year-old program at her alma mater to provide stability in the wake of iconic coach Edean Ihlanfeldt leaving Washington.
"There's no question they have the skills. But the best ever? Ask me in about a month.
"The exciting thing is we have them together here for at least two more years. And we've got another great recruiting class coming in this fall."
SHE'S UW'S NO. 1 - AND STILL GROWING
Last year, as a freshman, Kim put together one of the best seasons in the history of the program. She was second team All-Pac-12, becoming the first Husky freshman to earn first or second team all-conference honors. Her 2012 scoring average of 73.59 was the second-lowest in any UW season, behind Mackenzie's 72.79 in 2006.
It was perhaps beyond what Mulflur envisioned when she began e-mailing Kim when she was a freshman at Gleneagle Secondary School in Coquitlam, B.C. - the same school from which Yang found Husky golf.
"U-Dub was always so close to me; I visited Seattle all the time," Kim says. "It was really close to me. Very convenient."
She wanted to stay close to the most important people in her life: her mother Chunok, who owns a restaurant, plus older sister Sooji and younger brother David.
She met her father when she was living in Donghae, South Korea, but never knew him. She doesn't consider herself to have a dad.
The dominant male figure in life then became her golf training coach, Brian Jung. The Canadian PGA professional since 2003 is based in suburban Vancouver. Kim still goes back to B.C. on her UW school breaks to work with Jung.
She briefly thought of turning professional as a teen, then realized she needed to grow. And not as a golfer.
She realized Washington is where she would grow best.
"I just thought there were a whole lot of things I could learn from college golf. And I'd never been around so many good amateur players," she says. "This was a great opportunity to learn in a bigger world, to become more mature.
"There were times I just wanted to turn pro. But then coming here to U-Dub, I saw I just needed to grow."
"SHE FOUND US"
Thomas grew up playing soccer and field hockey in England. When she was in her final year of middle school her father Chris was offered a promotion to leave England and moved to Southeast Asia for the global advertising firm BBDO.
And it wasn't just any promotion. Chris Thomas moved his wife Fleur and their children Charlotte (20), Billy (now 21), Peter (18), and Robbie (17) across the world to Singapore so he could become chairman and CEO of BBDO in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
"He wanted to go to Hong Kong, but there were not enough golf courses there," Charlotte says now.
Yet her new home, the Republic of Singapore, has a population of 5.5 million packed into about 255 square miles, about 3½ times the area of the District of Columbia. So she went abroad to develop her new golf game. Charlotte excelled as a prodigy golfing at United World College of South East Asia, an independent, international school based in Singapore. She played in New Zealand, Australia and China.
Entering her junior year of high school in Singapore she decided she wanted to get a college degree in the United States. She compiled a list of America's top golf and academic programs and settled on this list for her tour of campus visits: Washington, Oregon, California, San Francisco, UCLA, Wake Forest, and Virginia.
Good thing for the Huskies that UW was her first stop en route from Southeast Asia.
"She found us," Mulflur said.
Thomas is sure glad she did.
"It was my first stop. And I was just blown away by the whole thing: the campus, the city, the program, the academics," Thomas said. "U-Dub just stuck out."
After graduating from high school she was the midpoint leader of the 2011 Ladies' British Open Amateur back in England before finishing fifth in the stroke-play portion. That same year she won the inaugural Annika Invitational at Mission Hills in Shenzhen, China - Luo's hometown. That was the first-ever girls-only junior golf event in China.
Mulflur was there to see her newest recruit play, though UW already had the inside track before Thomas won the tournament and got everyone's attention.
UW's program wasn't the only thing that blew away Thomas, who waited a year after high school before enrolling at Washington.
"The team workouts when I got here were a shock to my system," she says now. "Coach Lud (then-strength coach Matt Ludwig, who was since moved on to UW to start his own training operation) gave me golf-specific training workouts, working specific muscles for golfers. I'd never done that before.
"I've gained a lot of length (in my drives) because of it. That's helped a lot."
NOT YOUR NORMAL WALK ON
On that, same, hugely profitable trip to China where she watched Thomas play, Mulflur saw another teen play at another tournament: Luo.
While Kim and Thomas were being groomed for American college golf on lush courses across Asia and Canada, Luo was in China practicing on what amounted to rug mats. Which was fine with her. She didn't know any differently.
The daughter of Ying Qui (her accountant mother) and Wei Quan Lio (her banker father) says her nation, which the World Bank said in 2011 had a population of more than 1.34 billion, doesn't really get into the sport.
"Really, not many people play golf in China," says Luo, who has a 4-year-old brother Chunging. "I was always playing with the same 30 to 40 people."
She sought to broaden her golf - and her world - by coming to America to college. And to her there was only one choice, the only U.S. school she knew.
Luo is friends with Yifan Liu, a one-year walk on last year for Washington's men's golf team. They are both from the same province of China, Guangzhou. Liu told her all about the UW culture, its golf, its life as a college freshman in Seattle.
That knowledge, plus her being impressed with Mulflur flying all the way to China to see her play, led to Luo becoming a Husky.
After she won the China Amateur Tour Beijing in April, 2012, she arrived last summer to Washington with no scholarship. Yet she didn't consider herself a walk on.
"Uh, not really," she said this week, in improving English she began learning in August. "I never played with teammates who were in the U.S., so coaches here didn't know about me."
They learned after she broke into the Huskies' lineup of top five golfers before her first UW tournament. They learned more when she shot 2 under par in her second round at Washington last fall.
"In my situation I couldn't get a scholarship (coming out of high school)," she said. "But they found me a partial scholarship. I really appreciate that."
She has pulled down all A's in her first two quarters as a UW freshman. Her favorite class is a current one in quantitative math. She wants to go into marketing.
"If I can't play as a professional," she says, though that is a distinct possibility, "I want to put on really good tournaments.
SKILL. PATIENCE. AND LUCK
This young, potentially wondrous group admits it was burdened by its own expectations and "the hype," as Thomas calls it now, of being ranked No. 1 this winter.
"We all felt we were under quite a bit of pressure and we all had high expectations," Thomas says. "We had to overcome those.
"We're right there. In the next three weeks, we are only going to get better."
Kim says the Huskies know what they need to work on for the Pac-12 championships and the NCAAs. And it's all mental.
"I don't think it's going to be tough," she said. "We are on the right track, definitely."
Mulflur is a two-time coach of the year inside one of the toughest conferences in women's golf. She is trying to get back to the NCAA championships for the 10th time. She sees three keys to this or any UW team doing it.
"You have to be skilled. You have to be patient. And you have to be a little bit lucky," the coach said. "I want them focused on being the first two. The third will take care of itself.
"I know we have a great team. I know we have gone toe to toe with the greatest teams in the nation. I just know that good things can happen with this group."
Not only for the next month -- but for the next few years.
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.