The joke around the Washington athletic department is that Mary Lou Mulflur’s coaching the “Fighting Bridesmaids.”
With four runner-up finishes – the latest coming March 9 at the San Jose Spartan Invitational – the prize often seems just outside Washington’s grasp.
But if the “Bridesmaids” are waiting for a formal stage to cue their breakthrough, Mulflur can’t think of a better time than the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship.
“I think there are more teams this year that could win the whole thing than there’s ever been,” said Mulflur, whose team is fourth in the Golfweek/ Sagarin College Rankings. “We feel like we’ve got a shot.”
Stranger things have happened. After all, Seattle – known for its wet weather – recently fell under a drought emergency. It’s welcome news for redshirt junior Paige Mackenzie, who never liked practicing in misty rain anyway.
Walking off the final green at the NCAA finals last spring, Mackenzie knew good things were in store for the Huskies. Washington tied for sixth,
a school best, behind Mackenzie’s 11th-place effort. Four of five starters returned to Seattle in the fall, and were joined by promising freshman Kim Shin.
The Huskies haven’t disappointed. Mackenzie leads the team with a 73.33 stroke average and boasts three top-10 finishes. Shin, who posted a career-best sixth-place showing at the Spartan, and junior Sung Ea Lee are deadlocked at 74.06.
“These are exciting times at Washington,” gushed Mackenzie, minutes after watching the Huskies’ men’s basketball team collect its first Pac-10 title. “To be honest, I’ve never looked forward to a golf season more than after last May. We’re deep for the first time since I’ve been here.”
So deep, in fact, that Mulflur’s still holding team qualifiers in mid-March. All the depth in the world, however, couldn’t keep Mulflur from holding her breath where Mackenzie’s health is concerned. Stress fractures and a bulging disc kept the Washington native out of competition for 10 months during the 2002-03 season.
Mackenzie says minor flare-ups still aren’t out of the ordinary, and Mulflur isn’t letting her star player load and unload the team van anytime soon. But overall, Mackenzie feels better then she has in a long time.
Since returning to the lineup in fall ’03, Mackenzie has learned the value of staying in the moment. She’s not entirely sure how it came about, but on the course the 22-year-old now is oblivious to where she stands in relation to par.
Maybe it’s her new lease on life. Maybe it’s her deepened appreciation for a game she can’t remember not playing. Mackenzie’s parents, single-digit handicappers, strapped baby seats on their push carts when she and older brother Brock, a former Washington standout now playing professionally, were infants.
Whatever the case, Mackenzie is back doing what she loves. And Mulflur’s enjoying her 22nd year at Washington as much as her first.
“We’re just trying to be that snowball heading downhill gaining momentum as the season goes on,” Mulflur said.
Attempting to rid themselves of that bridesmaid tag once and for all.