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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jim Meehan: Sophie Hausmann, Idaho Vandals take another swing at NCAA women’s golf regional

Idaho junior Sophie Hausmann recently captured her second Big Sky Conference Tournament championship. (BRYSON LESTER / Courtesy of University of Idaho athletics)

It turns out there is a pretty simple answer to an interesting question.

How exactly did German native Sophie Hausmann end up playing golf – really good golf – for the University of Idaho women’s team?

Coach Lisa Johnson had committed to recruiting Europe several years ago, but she wasn’t able to watch Hausmann play on the trip. She received an email about Hausmann and found that her scores compared favorably with her European peers.

That led to several conversations, which led to the clincher for both coach and player.

“She had strong fundamentals,” Johnson said, “but mainly I just enjoyed talking to her. She’s very pleasant, enjoyable.”

Hausmann, a skier, liked the idea of four seasons of weather and being on a campus where she could bike everywhere. The scholarship was a huge plus, too, but there was something else.

“When Lisa was recruiting me, I liked her as a coach,” the junior said. “If you’re going to go to the U.S. and play, you want to be coached by someone you like.”

It’s worked out beyond well for Hausmann, Johnson and the Vandals, who recently collected their second Big Sky Conference championship in three years. Hausmann led the way with a Big Sky Tournament record 10-under-par 206. She was followed by teammate Michelle Kim, who finished at 6 under and became the first player in tournament history to shoot under par in all three rounds.

Idaho earned the 15th seed at the 18-team Madison (Wisconsin) Regional. The top six teams will advance to the national tournament. The top three individuals not on qualifying teams also move on to nationals.

Hausmann fired a second-round 65 to take control at Boulder Creek Golf Club in Boulder City, Nevada. It was the third 65 of her UI career, including one en route to winning the 2016 Big Sky Tournament title.

Her latest masterpiece included a rarity, back-to-back eagles. She dropped a 30-footer for eagle on the par-5 13th and followed it up by holing a 94-yard approach on the par-4 14th.

“Apparently, it hit the flag and dropped down,” Hausmann said. “A girl I played with, her parents were screaming.”

Hausmann has plenty of game – length off the tee, precise ball-striking, short-game touch – but she’s made marked improvement with her putting and her mental approach.

She’s learned to “better manage her emotions and expectations” from working with Idaho’s sports psychologist, Johnson said.

Hausmann wasn’t satisfied with her putting and adjusting to U.S. greens didn’t help the situation. So, she sought help.

“I thought, email Bernhard Langer,” Hausmann said of Germany’s legendary golfer. “I’ll give it a try and he actually replied in a week. He talked with Eric Kaplan (Langer’s coach). I got in contact with (Kaplan) and he asked me, ‘What time works for you to come?’ ”

Hausmann visited Kaplan in Florida last May and he suggested a different approach and set-up. They stay in touch via video lessons.

“It gave me confidence because I saw putts going in,” Hausmann said.

Hausmann already has stamped her name among the best players in school history. Her career scoring average (73.26) is second behind Kayla Mortellaro’s 72.80. Her four tournament victories rate third behind Mortellaro, who had a short stint on the LPGA before she was sidelined by injuries, and Renee Skidmore.

“Sophie and Kayla are phenomenal ball-strikers, but Sophie hits it farther than Kayla,” said Johnson, who has seen nearly all of Idaho’s top players as head or assistant coach. “Sophie has so much world experience playing in big events in Europe and with the German national team. When it comes time for her to turn pro, she’ll have a lot of experience under her belt.”

More experience is on the horizon for Hausmann and the Vandals, who leave Saturday for Madison, practice Sunday and tee it up in the first round Monday. Idaho will be long shots, but perhaps not as long as a 15 seed would suggest.

Hausmann and Kim often post low numbers. Valeria Patino, Laura Gerner and Kendall Gray combined for nine rounds in the 70s, most in the mid-70s, at the Big Sky Tournament with Patino posting a 72.

“It’ll be a pretty fun week,” Hausmann said. “We’re definitely not the favorites, but always an underdog can make it. We just have to have three days of solid team scores.”