Taylor-made star helps put Washington golf on rise

SHORELINE, Wash. (AP) — Much to the disbelief of his teammates, there was a time when Washington's Nick Taylor stood over a tee with nerves rattling every movement of his swing.

First shot. Torrey Pines. The 2008 U.S. Open, while the likes of Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Stewart Cink waited behind him.

In that moment, Taylor wasn't so steely.

"I could barely hold the club," he said.

The result?

"Waaaaaaaaay right," he cracked.

If Taylor's name is unfamiliar, that's no surprise. Despite a resume most college golfers can only dream up, Taylor remains mostly anonymous thanks to his quiet demeanor and isolated location in the dreary Pacific Northwest. At big tournaments in warmer climes, other teams crack jokes asking how they can practice in the rain.

But crisp ball striking, a deft short game and an attitude that any shot is possible combine to make Taylor one of the top collegiate players - on a team that, like its star, hasn't always received much respect.

"I have never seen him scared to hit a single shot. He could be in one of the worst positions after hitting maybe just a terrible shot, but there is no doubt in his mind that he's getting it either up and down," teammate Chris Kilmer said.

Taylor is a large reason why the Huskies are a No. 1 seed at this week's NCAA regionals in Bowling Green, Ky., and ranked fourth in the latest Golfweek rankings. They won four tournaments this spring, including a record-setting performance in the U.S. Intercollegiate at Stanford. Taylor shot a final round 63 to win his school-record fourth individual tournament title of the season.

Then came the recent Pac-10 championships, hosted by the Huskies at Seattle Golf Club. While the assumed powers of the conference - USC, Arizona State, UCLA - struggled on the hilly, tree-lined layout, Washington thrived. The Huskies' 18-shot victory over second-place Oregon was their fifth conference crown. Meanwhile, USC, ranked third in the nation, finished 50 shots back.

Taylor, who was named the Pac-10 co-player of the year, was in a complementary role at the conference tournament as teammate Darren Wallace ran away with the title.

"Those of us that play golf in the Northwest, we have a little chip on our shoulder anyway because every tournament we go to, 'Man, how many months out of the year can you guys play? How can you guys be good playing up in the rain all the time?"' coach Matt Thurmond said.

Even though Taylor landed at Washington from north of the 49th parallel in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Thurmond still considers him a local. And he believes Taylor is unjustly overlooked on a national level.

"I'm surprised he's not getting more (attention)," Thurmond said. "He's as good as anybody. If I were playing and needed 18 holes from somebody, I wouldn't pick anybody over him."

Taylor held a pretty impressive list of accolades before the 2008-09 season. He was the runner up at the 2008 NCAA championships, then won a sectional qualifier for last year's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, although he missed the cut, shooting 10-over for his two rounds.

At age 19, he won the Canadian amateur championship and reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur. Before even arriving at Washington, Taylor was inducted into his local Hall of Fame in Abbotsford.

Even with some pressure from back home to become the next great Canadian pro, Taylor is in no rush to give up his amateur status. He's only a junior and has every intention of returning for his senior year. He'll attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open again this year and doesn't believe he'll turn pro until after the 2010 U.S. Amateur is played at Chambers Bay, just a short drive from Seattle.

Until then, Taylor's focus is increasing respect for the Huskies through his play - and not his attitude.

"You go to a lot of places and you see guys walking around, shoulders back, heads held high like everybody owes them something," Kilmer said. "If you didn't know anything about golf and you came out and saw our team you wouldn't know if I was the No. 1 (player), he was the No. 1. ... You just don't know because he carries himself just like one of us."

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