Thirty three years seems like a long time to wait for anything, particularly when you’re seeking an NCAA National Championship title. This is how long the University of Washington women’s golf coach Mary Lou Mulflur had to wait.
Despite not having a national title before this one, Mary Lou has had success during her coaching career at Washington. In 2013 she was inducted into the Women's Coaching Hall of Fame, honoring her contributions to women's college golf. Several of her players have played on the LPGA tour, including Louis Frieberg, Paige MacKenzie, Sadena Parks, SooBin Kim, and myself. She has also led the team to 25 of 26 NCAA Regionals that have been contested since their inception in 1993.
“I should point out we’ve had a lot of success over the years, so I was not surprised that we won. We didn’t just come out of woodworks,” Mulflur said.
Despite her successes though, no one expected the Washington Huskies to pull through at the national championship, especially against Stanford, the defending champions in the final match.
Paige Mackenzie, who played seven seasons on the LPGA, and is now a co-host on the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive, said, “I felt bad that I didn’t even have Washington in my bracket when we were picking who was favored to win.”
Washington has played well in previous years in the National Championship, placing 6th twice, 8th, and 14th in the last decade out 24 teams playing. This season alone, the Huskies won three team titles and placed third at regionals.
[caption id="attachment_5370" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Huskies pose with the NCAA Championship trophy. (Photo: Washington Huskies)[/caption]
Over the last five years Mulflur has turned the program around with the help of her associate head coach Andrea Vanderlende. Since the program started in 1974, the women’s golf team has been in the shadows of the men’s program who has had great success and at one point was ranked the number one college team in men's D1 golf in the last five years. This season, the men did not advance to the NCAA Championship, so the women had an opportunity to showcase themselves.
Vanderlende, who is in her seventh season with the Huskies, believed the team could do something special, “I liked our chances going into the tournament. The field was strong, but I knew we were good enough. We have worked so much on the mental game that I knew it would help us.”
Freshman Julianne Alvarez said, “Everyone is a good player in D1, but the next step is being able to control your emotions and mentality. We’ve practiced being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Alvarez had an opportunity to showcase her mental strength on the final day when it all came down to her at the very end to close out the tournament. After three-putting the final hole, Alvarez was beside herself, “ I couldn’t believe I had just three-putted. Coach pulled me aside and said, “Hey, we get to play extra holes. How fun is this?” It felt like I had lost the title for us. But I had to tell myself that I was still in this and that I had another opportunity to win it. Now was not the time to get angry and just get back in the moment.”
After tying the first playoff hole, Alvarez went on to almost hole out a chip shot from 26 yards, putting pressure on her opponent, who in the end missed her putt to extend the match. It was then the Huskies had clinched the title of National Champions.
Mackenzie stated that she was “captivated the entire week” by the team’s resiliency and ability to step up to the plate when needed. More importantly, Mackenzie was impressed with the laid back attitude the team took on during the championship, “The cool thing about the week was you got to see the personality of the team, like throwing footballs around before teeing off. There was no ego.”
Mulflur said her strength as a coach is in her ability to adapt to change and to never think she has all the answers. Not afraid to try anything once, she has implemented several different types of mental coaching, doing a trial run to see what would work best for her players. In 2007 she flew in an Emotional Freedom Technique specialist, who utilized tapping certain areas of the body to help release negative energy. The team at the time did not respond well to this, and Mulflur went on to enlist the help of Vision54 coaches who had worked with several players on the LPGA and PGA tour. She noticed a difference in her players and the methods adopted from the program, but something was still missing.
So in came David Elaimy, a sports performance coach. “I call him our secret weapon,” Mulflur said. Elaimy started working with the team in 2008 and Mulflur said all their success is due to him.
[caption id="attachment_5363" align="alignnone" width="640"] Ying Luo digs herself out of the bunker. (Photo: Washington Huskies)[/caption]
Alvarez went on to say, “He gave us tools that really helped us when we felt under pressure.”
Washington is just a microscopic view of how good women’s college golf has gotten over the last few years. And the unexpectedness of Washington winning puts in perspective that warm weather is not always needed to make a great golfer or program.
In fact, the mental side continues to play itself out as the main reason of those who fail and succeed.
“You don’t hit the shots the team hit on the final day without being mentally prepared. You have to be confident in times of pressure,” Mulflur said.
Perhaps this realization has helped the Huskies continue on their path towards success. After all, it takes mental resilience to wait as long as Mulflur had to for the honor of calling herself a national championship winning coach.