Connections help Wie gain spot in PGA event

Updated: April 21, 2006, 6:56 PM ET
Associated Press

FARMINGTON, Pa. -- Michelle Wie has received a sponsor's exemption to play in the 84 Lumber Classic, giving the 16-year-old from Hawaii three starts on the PGA Tour this year.

Wie, who has not made the cut in seven previous times competing against men, will be part of the 144-player field Sept. 14-17 at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa, 84 Lumber spokesman Jeff Nobers said Friday.

Wie's family has known 84 Lumber president Maggie Hardy Magerko for several years, and the company has been offering her an exemption to the tournament since she was 13. This will be the final year of the 84 Lumber Classic, which recently decided to give up its summer date on the new PGA Tour schedule that starts in 2007.

Wie, a junior at Punahou School in Honolulu, has not made the cut in four starts on the PGA Tour. Her last attempt was in January at the Sony Open, where she missed by four shots after rounds of 79-68. Her second round, in which she made five birdies in a seven-hole stretch, matched her record for lowest score by a female on a men's tour.

Wie will play against the men in two weeks in South Korea in the Asian Tour's SK Telecom Open, and also has accepted an exemption to play in the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic in July.

She previously has played against the men on the Canadian, Nationwide and Japanese tours. No woman has made the cut on the PGA Tour since Babe Zaharias in 1945.

"I guess if it attracts attention to the tournament, it's good for the tournament," Olin Browne said from the Houston Open.

Still, Browne said her sixth exemption to a PGA Tour event create some resentment, especially from the first alternate, who might need that tournament to help keep his card.

"This is the big leagues, man. I think tournaments should invite players who qualified to play," said Browne, who needed a sponsor's exemptions last year until breaking through with a victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship. "I don't see any high school kids playing major league baseball."

Former Masters champion Mike Weir said Wie was a good player who appeared to be improving, and that giving her an exemption was up to the tournament sponsor.

"If they want to give her a shot, that's their prerogative," Weir said. "Do I think it's right all the time? No, I don't. I understand the buzz they're trying to create with Michelle. But at the same time, she hasn't made any cuts. I think maybe it's about time for her to really earn a spot. It would be nice if the tour would step in. There are guys who really need to play, really need events to get in. There are plenty of guys, a lot of my friends, who are in that situation."

Wie became the youngest winner of a USGA championship for adults when she captured the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links in 2003 as a 13-year-old.

She has not won a tournament since then, although she was runner-up in the LPGA Championship last year, and she finished one shot out of a playoff earlier this month at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

"She has the opportunity, and she's always stated that she wants to play on the PGA Tour," said Karrie Webb, who won the Kraft Nabisco for her seventh career major. "While she's got the opportunity, she should take advantage of it."

Wie also is scheduled to play the Casio World Open in Japan later in the year, meaning she will play as often against the men as the women in the second half of 2006. That was fine with Natalie Gulbis, who said Wie's appearances on the PGA Tour can only help the LPGA.

"People still associate her with women's golf," said Gulbis, who played with Wie in the final group at the Kraft Nabisco. "Then, when she comes over here, it brings a bigger fan base. Of course, we would like for her to play our tour more often. But she's limited in how many events she can play. She's doing what's good for her."

Wie turned pro in October. Because she is not a member, she can play only eight LPGA events a year.

The 84 Lumber Classic is held about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It was started by company founder Joe Hardy, who poured millions into the event and tried to attract the biggest names in golf.

The tournament was to be played a week after the U.S. Open starting next year, a more attractive spot on the schedule than the fall. But the company announced earlier this month that it would drop its sponsorship after this year. The announcement came just a week after the company announced that it would close 67 stores while opening 125 new ones in faster-growing areas.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press