Head Coach Mary Lou Mulflur
When a team spends an entire season ranked in the Golfweek Top 10, finishes 14th at the NCAA Championships and leaves disappointed, you know you're dealing with an elite program. When that program's two-time All-American records the school's first ever top 10 NCAA finish and feels as though she should have done better, you know you have a determined squad. Take that elite program and bring back the same determined squad for another shot at the title, and you've got the 2006 Washington women's golf team.
Head Coach Mary Lou Mulflur knows that for her team to improve, she'll need her younger players to follow the example set by senior Paige Mackenzie, the aforementioned All-American and 2005 NCAA 10th-place finisher.
"She brings a lot to the table," Mulflur says. "A lot of young people are good athletes, but they don't have the rest. Paige has it all. I've told more than one member of my team, `If I were you, I would follow her around like a little lost puppy dog, and do everything that she does.' She's so successful in everything she takes on. And it's not a secret how she does it. She's very efficient in how she practices, how she studies and how she approaches things. She works very hard."
Mackenzie made the most of that hard work over the summer, following up her NCAA performance by finishing first at the U.S. Open qualifier in Denver and then placing second at the Colorado Open. She completed her two-week stay in Colorado by placing 13th at the U.S. Women's Open, third-highest among amateurs at the event. Mackenzie was the runner-up at the Pacific Northwest Golf Association's Amateur Championship before winning the Women's Trans National Golf Association championship at the Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C. She also advanced to the semifinals of the 103rd North and South Women's Amateur Championship.
Mackenzie continued to excel in the fall, placing second individually while helping Washington to a second place finish at the Topy Cup in Fukushima, Japan. She followed that up by placing fourth at the Stanford Intercollegiate, and finished the fall with a team-best 70.83 stroke average. She was named the Pacific Northwest Golf Association's 2005 Women's Golfer of the Year and enters the spring season as the nation's top-rated women's golfer, according to Golfweek magazine.
Fellow senior Sung Ea Lee should also play a vital role in the Huskies' success. An honorable mention All-American in 2004, Lee finished second at the 2005 Washington State Amateur, and advanced to match play at the 2005 U.S. Public Links Championship. Though she had some difficulty during the fall season, Mulflur expects her to return to form.
"Sung had a disappointing fall, by her own admission," Mulflur says. "So now it's a matter of learning from that experience and just playing the game without worrying about consequences and outcomes. She's got a tremendous amount of talent, a great feel for the game and I'm confident that she'll play well for us this spring."
Junior Amber Prange was Washington's second-best finisher at the 2005 NCAA Championships, placing 16th. She was named an honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick, and advanced to the Round of 32 at the 2005 Western Amateur. Prange's best finish of the fall came at the Topy Cup, where she finished second on the team. Her 76.67 stroke average was third-best on the squad.
Junior Courtney McCracken was also a solid contributor for Washington in the fall, leading the way for Washington at the Ihlanfeldt Invitational and finishing the season with a 76.44 stroke average, second-best on the team. Her summer was highlighted by a quarterfinal finish at the Western Amateur.
"Amber and Courtney both really stepped up in the fall," Mulflur remarks. "Amber has an unbelievable competitiveness in her that really helps her get the most out of her game. Courtney is somebody who's really emerging as a leader. She's starting to become a little more vocal about how she feels about things. She's coming into her own, and she's just going to continue to get better for us."
Mulflur also expects contributions from other squad members.
"Our other two juniors, Ashley Bickerton and Amy Wang, didn't play a lot for us this fall, but they're very talented," Mulflur says. "That is where the depth of our squad comes in. I'm glad to have the players who aren't in the lineup all the time, who are constantly pushing the players that are in the lineup."
Sophomore Kim Shin rounds out the Husky squad, as freshman Molly Boyle will redshirt.
"Kim has a ton of talent," Mulflur says. "I think she sometimes puts too much pressure on herself. She needs to learn not to get so worked up about it internally. Even though she has this really calm exterior, you can tell she's churning inside. She needs to be comfortable with what she's doing at that moment."
Another important player for the Huskies this season will be their home course, Washington National, which will host the 2006 NCAA West Regional. After traveling across the country to play in the East Regional in 2005, Mulflur is appreciative of the chance to play on a familiar course at such a crucial time.
"Last year was really hard," she says. "When you get sent three time zones away and the players are in the middle of midterms it makes things difficult. So just to know that all we have to do is get in the van and drive to Washington National - we're all very excited about that. Being comfortable and knowing the course will be great."
After that, should the Huskies advance, will come the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio. After last year's disappointment, the goal will be clear.
"Obviously our goal is to win a national championship and we know we have the talent to do that," Mulflur says. "None of the players, Paige included, was satisfied with the way we played at the end of last year, and the way we played this fall. So we have to step it up and I am confident that we will."