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Originally published Monday, August 17, 2009 at 6:25 PM

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Stunning summer for UW golfer Nick Taylor

When Nick Taylor returns to the University of Washington this fall, some unsuspecting person will undoubtedly ask him the standard question of the first day of school: "So what did you do this summer?" The problem for Taylor is where to begin. The

Seattle Times staff

Who's the best?

Washington has had many great golfers, including current PGA Tour player Troy Kelly. But based on accomplishments while in school, three rise to the top in the discussion of best in UW history.

Brock Mackenzie, 2000-04:

The résumé: The best four-year run in UW history. School's only three-time All-Pac-10 performer. Tied the lowest round ever by a collegiate player with a 60 in 2003, joining two others. His 32 top-10 finishes might be the UW mark least likely to be broken. His four career victories tie him with Taylor for most in school history. "One of the best ball strikers in the world," said his UW coach, Matt Thurmond.

What's he doing now: After spending the past two seasons on the Nationwide Tour, Mackenzie is playing periodically on the Canadian Tour. "I'm getting married this year, and I'm remodeling a house, so I really haven't played in that many events." Mackenzie said he is working hard on his short game, "shots 100 yards and in." He plans to return to PGA Tour qualifying school this fall.

James Lepp, 2004-06:

The résumé: Transferred to Washington for his final two seasons after being named Big Ten player of the year at Illinois in 2002-003. Overcame a six-shot deficit in the final round of the 2005 NCAA championships, jumping from eighth to first with a 63. UW's only NCAA champion, he finished eighth as a senior. Was medalist at the 2005 U.S. Amateur, first-team All-Pac-10 as a junior and second-team as a senior. Very humble, he downplays his accomplishments at UW. "I really didn't do that much, especially the last year," he said. But he played his best when it mattered most.

What he's doing now: Has played twice on Canadian Tour this year, finishing third in one event, but his focus is working on the launch of his golf company, Kikkor Golf (kikkor.com). The company will sell stylish golf shoes, focused on younger players. "There was an unmet need, and we're trying to fill it," he said.

Nick Taylor, 2006-current:

The résumé: The world's top-ranked amateur won four collegiate events last year. Has two seconds at NCAA regionals, the best finishes in school history. Runner-up in 2008 NCAA tournament. Second in 2009 Pac-10 championships. Was 2009 co-Pac-10 player of the year. Earned a national profile at the U.S. Open in June at Bethpage Black. Had a double bogey on his first hole and was 4 over after his first six holes. Played the next 30 in 6 under and was tied for seventh after second round, before finishing 36th.

Scott Hanson

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When Nick Taylor returns to the University of Washington this fall, some unsuspecting person will undoubtedly ask him the standard question of the first day of school:

"So what did you do this summer?"

The problem for Taylor is where to begin.

The ascension to No. 1 in the world amateur golf rankings?

The 65 in the second round of the U.S. Open, equaling the best score by an amateur in the history of the event?

The early July win in the Sahalee Players Championship, one of the top amateur events in the nation?

Taking medalist honors in stroke play at the U.S. Public Links before finishing runner-up?

Or coming back to his native Canada a hero for the PGA Tour's Canadian Open?

It was quite a summer for Taylor, even better than he could have expected.

"I had goals, but to have that kind of success, yeah, I was a little surprised," he said.

Not surprisingly, he couldn't avoid questions about turning pro early and skipping his senior season at UW. His answer never strayed.

"I really enjoy it at Washington, being with the other players and going on the trips," Taylor said before the Canadian Open in late July. "I really enjoy practicing with them, and that is how I've improved. It would take something really extreme or out of the ordinary for me to turn pro."

Washington coach Matt Thurmond certainly is happy that his star wants to return.

"It's a coach's dream when a player like Nick says those things," Thurmond said. "He means so much to this team, not only as player, but as a leader."

As much as Thurmond liked hearing Taylor's resolve about staying in school, the two had not talked about it before he left for the summer.

"Finally, I just told him, don't do this for me," Thurmond said. "I said, 'If you want to go [pro], I'll support you all the way.' But I do think it's best for him to stay in school another year. He'll still be really good in another year."

A big first impression

The first time Thurmond saw Taylor play was in a junior event. Taylor, from Abbotsford, B.C., wasn't a well-known prospect, but he caught the UW coach's eye.

"I told this other coach that he was going to be a PGA Tour player someday," Thurmond said. "I think he thought I was crazy. But Nick had a presence and a confidence about him."

Taylor elected to come to Washington, arriving in the fall of 2006. He just missed playing with another star from Abbotsford, James Lepp, the 2005 NCAA champion who graduated in the spring of 2006.

Taylor wasn't real close with Lepp, being several years younger, but was aware Lepp had enjoyed his experience at UW, electing to return to the Huskies for his senior season after winning the NCAA title.

Taylor didn't immediately fill Lepp's void and was a part-time starter as a freshman, with an average score of 75.08. He cut more than two strokes off his average as a sophomore in 2007-08 and was Washington's top scorer in seven events.

It was in late spring 2008 that Taylor's extended run began. He was second in the NCAA West Regional, best in school history, and followed that with a runner-up spot in the NCAA tournament, second-best in school history behind Lepp's title.

"I was in contention the last two tournaments, and I learned what that was like," Taylor said. "But once I got a taste of it and a chance to experience [being in contention], I got the urge to win and learned what I had to do to get there."

He learned well, winning four collegiate tournaments this past year, setting UW's season record and tying the career mark.

Taylor was second in the Pac-10 championships and the NCAA Regional and ninth in the NCAA championships, earning All-American honors. The summer has been even better, beginning with a dominating win in U.S. Open Sectional qualifying.

Taylor was on such a roll, he seemed destined to roll to a victory in the U.S. Public Links. But after leading the field through two rounds of stroke play and dominating in his first five match-play pairings, he lost 7 and 6 in the final.

"To play so well all week, then not play that well in the final and to lose like that, it was real disappointing," he said. "I really thought I was going to win."

There was little rest after that loss on July 18 in Norman, Okla. Five days later, he was one of the bigger attractions at the Canadian Open, playing in that PGA Tour event for the second straight year on a sponsor's exemption. Taylor missed the cut, but wasn't intimidated.

"My jaw isn't dropping any more when I play with those guys," said Taylor, who rebounded after the Canadian Open with a tie for 34th in a Nationwide event and a fifth-place finish in the Canadian Amateur. "I feel comfortable out there."

UW's best ever?

Thurmond gets a bit uncomfortable when the subject gets brought up. Taylor is humble, saying he is flattered to be in a conversation that includes Brock Mackenzie (2000-2004) and Lepp. "It's nice just to be considered next to Brock and James," he said.

But a strong case can be made that Taylor is the greatest golfer in UW history.

"It's hard to say that he's not," said Thurmond, Washington's coach since the 2001-02 season.

Thurmond, however, is conflicted. He also coached Mackenzie, a first-team All-American who was the team's best player each of his four years, and Lepp.

"Brock was so consistent and so good for us for four years, and James shooting a 63 on the final day and winning the NCAA, that was incredible," Thurmond said. "But what Nick has accomplished over the past 18 months, no one here has done that."

Mackenzie holds the school mark with 32 top-10 finishes, 14 more than the next closest.

"I don't think there is enough tournaments for [Taylor] to catch me for top 10s, but if he keeps it going, a lot of records that I had will no longer be mine," Mackenzie said. "He had a great 2008 postseason and just kept going. When you are playing well, you keep that momentum."

Lepp takes special pride that Taylor is also from Abbotsford, and keeps close tabs on what Taylor is doing.

"He has just really stepped up his game," Lepp said. "To watch him in the U.S. Open was very cool, and to see him shoot that 65. In Abbotsford, we have a little history of some good players, at least in Canada."

O.D. Vincent won a Pac-10 title for Washington in 1988 as player, and coached the team from 1996-2001. Now UW's senior associate athletic director, he has a good perspective on Huskies golf.

"Nick's accomplishment in the last 12 months, and his consistency in that period, is the most impressive thing by a Husky golfer," Vincent said. "I m not going to say Nick has accomplished more than [Mackenzie and Lepp], but if he continues to play like this, I think he will eclipse many of the records and be the most accomplished in the history of the program."

Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or shanson@seattletimes.com

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