The Washington women's golf team won its first NCAA title in an epic match with Stanford that even had my 8-year-old daughter cheering its coach and players on.
With a national championship on the line on a 12-foot putt, Washington women’s golf coach Mary Lou Mulflur was looking into the sky as Lauren Kim of Stanford got ready to address her ball.
How much suspense can one person take in a day?
But finally, when Kim’s putt missed Wednesday at Eugene Country Club, Mulflur had her first national championship, in her 33rd year as coach. It came after hours of emotional ups and downs, with the momentum changing sides on incredible shots and bouts of nerves — often by the same player.
I have covered thousands of sporting events in the past 35 years, and all but a very few run together in my mind, blurred together by time. But I know I will never forget UW’s first national championship in golf.
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The story lines were too improbable for Hollywood. UW senior Ying Luo three-putting from about 20 feet on the 15th hole when nerves got the best of her to fall into a tie, then holing out from 61 yards on the final hole to win her match.
Julianne Alvarez blowing a three-hole lead with three to play, and then with her “mind going 1 million miles an hour,” hitting an amazing wedge shot to stay alive on the first extra hole, then hitting a brilliant chip shot on the second extra hole for the winning par.
Freshman Sarah Rhee, one day after coming back from three down with three holes to play to give UW a semifinal win, coming back from three down with four to go against Stanford senior star Mariah Stackhouse, before losing in 20 holes.
The plots were so rich that a dominating 4-3 win by UW freshman Wenyung Keh became an afterthought, as did senior Charlotte Thomas, the Huskies’ top player, who lost 2-and-1.
Perhaps the biggest story was Mulflur, the native of Oregon, winning her first national title at a course where she had excelled as a junior.
It seemed every person at the course not wearing Stanford colors was rooting for Mulflur, who is perpetually upbeat and friendly, and has endeared herself not only to her players, but to fellow coaches, fans and the media.
Mulflur’s first national title could easily have happened last year. The Huskies were by far the best team in the country and were ranked No. 1 after the fall portion of the season. But in December 2014, senior SooBin Kim, the top-ranked player in the country, and freshman Jing Yan, the biggest recruit in school history, left the team in midseason to play on the LPGA Tour.
Mulflur never complained, and said only great things about her two departed stars, even though it was a huge blow to her team. So if the golf gods were looking out for UW this past week, there was a reason why.
And I know my 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, won’t forget the national title as well. Watching from home on TV, she kept telling mom, “I know her! I know her!”
I had an interview scheduled last year at the UW’s practice facility, and when a child-care issue came up, Mulflur suggested I bring my daughter along. I am so glad that I did. Elizabeth immediately hit it off with the gracious Luo, who like Elizabeth is from China.
A few minutes later, Thomas was giving Elizabeth chipping pointers. Then, with my back turned, I heard some loud cheers. It was Thomas, high-fiving Elizabeth after she chipped in from off the practice green.
So, while I take being unbiased seriously when I write, I was incredibly happy to see Thomas and Luo end their careers with a national title. They will certainly be missed, but if the performances of UW’s three freshmen this past week were any indication, the program is in great hands.
Scott Hanson is a desk editor who covers golf and horse racing for The Seatlte Times. He can be reached at 206-464-2943 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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