Maturing Huskies Raring To Go In Pullman
April 26, 2012
SEATTLE - The last time the Husky women's golf team played at Palouse Ridge in Pullman, Wash., site of the first-ever Pac-12 Championship to be held this Friday through Sunday, Washington escaped town with their first team title since 2005. That 12-stroke victory came back in September and was the first tournament of the year for the young Huskies.
A lot has changed since then.
The Huskies that played in Pullman back then will be the same five that will play there this week, but this time they arrive on the Palouse with a year's worth of experience under their belts. SooBin Kim, Jennifer Yang and Cyd Okino were all making their college tournament debuts in that first trip to eastern Washington. The youngsters have had their ups and downs in between their visits to Pullman, but Husky Coach Mary Lou Mulflur believes they will be able to handle the return trip with higher stakes on the line well.
"They've all competed at a really high level," said Mulflur. "Cyd has played in the U.S. Open, SooBin won the Canadian Amateur; they've been on big stages.
Kim was second at the season-opening tournament in Pullman and has since earned a victory (Stanford Intercollegiate) and notched a total of five top-10 finishes. She is ranked 44th in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, the only Husky to obtain top-50 status.
Okino was fifth in the season-opener and has yet to top that result. She has struggled on many of the Huskies' stops since then, even getting relegated to the bench for the second-to-last regular season tournament. She bounced back nicely though in the regular season finale outside of San Francisco and cemented her place back in the Husky lineup.
Yang has battled through typical freshman hiccups but has shown glimpses of brilliance. She was second at the Husky-hosted Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational and had a top-10 finish at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational. But most importantly, she was stellar last time out at Half Moon Bay and shot 69 in the final round.
"They've all had their ups and downs but they have fought through them and made themselves better people and better players," said Mulflur. "I just see that continuing for the rest of this year and the three years after that."
If the freshmen trio are the building blocks for the future then senior Sadena Parks and sophomore Kelli Bowers have to be considered the teams' foundation. Parks and Bowers are the only players that remain from the 2011 squad that played in last year's conference championship and helped UW to a 16th place finish at the NCAA championships in College Station, Texas.
Parks, a senior, was the Huskies top finisher at the 2011 Pac-10 Championship, ending up 19th at Karsten Golf Course. Bowers, a sophomore, led UW at the NCAA's, finishing 26th.
"(The freshmen) have Sadena and Kelli to ground them a little bit," Mulflur said. "I will often have the returners address the newcomers (before big events). They can share a little bit of their experience and they've done that a little bit already. I think that's really helpful."
Parks also adds an additional dimension to the Huskies that Mulflur can't measure by looking at tournament results or statistics. The lone senior competing this week is the resident jokester.
"Obviously with her golf talent, she will not be replaced in a lot of ways once she has graduated, but she is also the pulse of our team," Mulflur gushed about Parks. "She's the one that always keeps it light and keeps everybody in a good mood. She's out there dancing and making people laugh. Nobody's going to replace that so she will be sorely missed for sure once she is gone."
With just one senior, a sophomore and three freshmen in the lineup, the Huskies should still be a dangerous team this week. Washington is 22nd in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, but that standing is only good enough for eighth best among 11 conference teams competing.
UCLA is the defending national champion and currently ranked No. 1. USC is third, followed by Arizona State (4th), California (9th), Colorado (11th), Arizona (14th) and Oregon (20th).
With a daunting field, Mulflur is keeping the team's expectations in check for the Pac-12 Championships.
"We don't really talk about a place we expect to finish," she said. "We have goals about process and playing our own game. You can't defend in golf. You can't do anything about the other teams. There are eight teams ranked in the top-25; there's nothing we can do about that. We can shoot 300 and win or shoot 280 and lose. It just depends.
"But we know that we've got a good, solid team and we know that when we're clicking on all cylinders we can compete with anybody."
The Huskies proved Mulflur right for most of the season about her belief that the Huskies could hang with anybody, but they did have a few ups and downs. The Huskies played their best golf of the year during the fall and early spring, before struggling with a lull in mid-March. They finally broke through their slump with a strong performance in their last regular season outing at Half Moon Bay. In all, Washington has finished third or better in five of 10 tournaments this year.
The swoon in March included a 10th-place showing in the Battle at Rancho Bernardo and 14th at the Lady Sun Devil Invitational, before ending up with a strong fifth-place among a tough field at the Pacific Coast Intercollegiate.
"I think it was big," Mulflur said of the Huskies bounce back. "We've struggled all spring. We haven't been awful, but certainly not what we're capable of. So just to get that one solid tournament under our belt, I think that was huge. I think that was a momentum shifter for us and I think right now they're kind of feeding off of that."
The Huskies are one of only four teams competing this week that has ever played at Palouse Ridge. The 6,200-yard, par-72 course demands accuracy off the tee and rewards golfers willing to take chances on the course. Mulflur believes the Huskies familiarity with the course will give her squad an advantage.
"Everybody played well and everybody had some good rounds there," she said. "Just feeling what it's like to win and having been around that golf course; I think that's a huge advantage.
"The only other teams that have seen that golf course are WSU, Oregon State and Stanford. I think, for us, that is definitely an advantage."
Ultimately, Mulflur knows that if you take away all the outside circumstances, the Huskies still need to go out on the course and perform.
"The bottom line is that the ball is still white and round and the hole is still four and a quarter inches wide and you've still got to hit it in the hole," she said. "We've had some good practices, people look good and we are feeling confident. I think we're ready to go; we just want to go play. Let's go. Let's do it."
First round action gets underway starting at 8:30 a.m. on both the first and 10th tees. Washington is the No. 8 seed and will be paired with No. 9 seed Stanford for the first round. The two teams will tee off from No. 10 starting at 8:30.
Second and final round tee times and pairings will be determined by team scores following each round.
Fans can follow all three rounds, 54-holes of action on Golfstat.com at: http://www.golfstatresults.com
Current Golfweek.com/Sagarin Rankings
INDIVIDUAL (Top 50)