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Originally published February 11, 2013 at 6:40 PM | Page modified February 12, 2013 at 12:42 PM

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Washington's women's golfers aiming for NCAA title

The Huskies' diverse team — the eight players come from five countries — is ranked No. 1 and has a goal of winning an NCAA championship. Washington's best finish in the NCAA tournament has been sixth, in 2004 and 2006.

Seattle Times staff

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Remember this if the top-ranked Washington women's golf team wins its first national championship this spring: it all came down to a piece of garlic bread.

Freshman Charlotte Thomas took one for the team during the winter after she and three teammates were sharing a large order of pizza and garlic bread. Thomas wasn't eating her share. And, as sophomore star SooBin Kim recalls it, Kelli Bowers said, "If you don't eat that third piece of garlic bread, we're not going to win the national championship."

Thomas ate it, and the teammates decided then that if they won the national title, they would have to make a speech about the garlic bread.

That story tells you a lot about the young, diverse UW team. They like to have fun, and they see no reason not to dream big. And why not? No team was better during the fall season, with two wins and two seconds in four tournaments.

The spring season began Monday in the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge at Palos Verde, Calif., and UW will be counting on Thomas, who was born in England before moving to Singapore at 13, and Kim, who moved from South Korea to British Columbia at age 11.

Thomas put her name in the Huskies' history books by winning in her first event. Kim, who had the second-lowest scoring average in UW history as a freshman, also won this fall.

Kim had a 70.83 scoring average in four fall events, and is on pace to break the school record of 72.79 set in 2006 by Paige Mackenzie, an All-American and current LPGA player. Thomas had an average of 72.25 in the fall.

But this is not a two-player team. Jennifer Yang (73.67), a South Korean who was a high school teammate of Kim's at Gleneagle Secondary School in Coquitlam, B.C., Ying Liao (74.16) from China, Cyd Okino from Hawaii and Bowers (74.66) from Chelan also had strong fall seasons.

One stat sums up the depth and talent on this team. Only seven times before this year has a UW player had a lower scoring average than Bowers had in the fall, and she ranked sixth on the team.

"If I'm struggling, I know my teammates have my back," Kim said. "We can depend on each other. Because they're dependable, there's not too much pressure."

Kim and Thomas have more in common than just moving away from their home country as kids. Both began playing golf at 11, both fell in love with UW after making it the first school they visited and both are determined to become successful professional players.

"SooBin wants to play on the LPGA Tour — that's it, and don't get in her way," said Mary Lou Mulflur, who has been the Huskies' coach since 1983. "Everything she does is with that in mind. Charlotte also wants to play at the next level and it's nice when two of your top players have that mindset. They definitely are pushing each other. They don't to want to lose to anybody, much less each other. Neither one likes to lose to anyone, quite frankly."

But it's clear when you see how easily the two interact that this is a friendly rivalry. Kim said she is loving being part of a team, something she admitted that she didn't completely buy into last year. So, she had no problem at all when Thomas became an instant star by winning the Oregon State Invitational in a 90-player field in the first event of the year.

"I go into every tournament with the mentality that I want to win it, so I was really happy," said Thomas, whose performance propelled the team to an easy win. "But I was just happy for the whole team. That's what is so exciting. We have such a great team, and we're so competitive and we get the best out of each other."

Three weeks later, Kim responded by winning the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, and Thomas was second. Kim finished the fall season by tying for second at the Stanford Intercollegiate.

That moved Kim to the No. 2 spot in Golfweek's individual collegiate rankings, but she isn't satisfied with that.

"I feel like since I'm not No. 1, I can't really tell people, 'Oh, I accomplished so much,' " she said. "I want to be No. 1 in the States."

Mulflur said putting is perhaps Kim's greatest strength:

"She's a fearless putter," Mulflur said. "She's knows she's going to make everything and she's not worried about missing. And she is very consistent and rarely makes a mistake. For her, an off day is 74."

The team had two wins and two seconds in four events to reach No. 1 in the Golfweek rankings (and No. 3 in Golfstat's rankings). It's heady stuff for a program that has finished better than fifth just once in the conference championships (third in 1988), including eighth-place finishes the past two years.

"We knew we would be really good," Mulflur said. "In the top 10, absolutely. But No. 1? I don't know if you can predict that."

Washington's best finish at the NCAA championships is sixth, in 2004 and 2006, when Mackenzie was leading the team. The players have loftier finishes in mind this year. They keep close tabs on team and individual rankings.

It all serves as motivation — just like Bowers' challenge to Thomas.

"I think we're going to get a shirt that says, 'Eat the garlic bread,' " Mulflur said.

International talent
The Huskies have gone international in assembling their eight-player roster. A look at the team's players and their hometowns.
Player Yr. Hometown
Kelli Bowers Jr. Chelan
Monica Huang Fr. Taipei, Taiwan
SooBin Kim So. Donghae, South Korea
Ying Luo Fr. Shenzhan, China
Cyd Okino So. Honolulu
Brittany Tallman Sr. Issaquah
Charlotte Thomas Fr. Surrey, England
Jennifer Yang So. Busan, South Korea

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