History on line for Wie as U.S. Open qualifier begins
Michelle Wie has played eight tournaments against men, starting at age 13. She shot a 68 in her PGA Tour debut when she was in the ninth grade, and she kept golf fans riveted by reaching the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links last summer in her long-shot bid to get into the Masters.
None of those moments has ramped up the hype over the 16-year-old from Hawaii quite like this.
Wie isn't trying to make the cut Monday at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J. She's trying to make history.
Wie, who just finished her junior year at Punahou School in Honolulu, is among 153 players trying to get 18 spots available for the U.S. Open, which would make her the first female to compete in a men's major.
She is capable, although it likely will take two of her best rounds. But the prospect of her teeing it up alongside Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els at Winged Foot has drawn media interest from around the world, far more than for anything she has done in a short but entertaining career.
Wie said she didn't feel any differently now than when she first played on the PGA Tour in the 2004 Sony Open, where her 68 remains the best score by a female in a men's professional event.
"They're both challenging," she said.
The odds of her finishing in the top 18 after 36 holes at Canoe Brook depend on how you look at it.
Wie's career-best on the PGA Tour is 2 under par, both times at Waialae Country Club -- a course she often plays. The cutoff for getting into the U.S. Open last year at the Canoe Brook qualifier was 3-under 139. Two years ago, when the New Jersey club hosted one of the larger sectional qualifiers, the 22nd and final spot went to Scott Hend at 140.
The field includes 135 professionals, four dozen of them members of the PGA Tour. Two of them are major champions (Mark O'Meara and Mark Brooks), while another is No. 10 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings (Vaughn Taylor).
Wie has never made the cut -- top 70 and ties -- on the PGA Tour. The closest she came was in 2004 at the Sony Open, when she missed by one shot after shooting 68 in the second round.
Now, she has to finish in the top 18.
"I'd be very surprised if she got through," Brooks said. "You've got to play better than just making the cut on tour to qualify, usually. If you went over there and looked at those two courses and said, 'What would the tour shoot here?' If you figure the cut would be 3 under, you'd better shoot 4 or 5 under."
Wie plays at 8:35 a.m. ET Monday on the South Course, a par 70 at 6,632 yards. She will be the last to tee off in the second 18 holes on the North Course, which plays at 7,066 yards as a par 72. She will be paired with David Gossett, a former PGA Tour winner who has lost his status because of a deep slump, and Rick Hartmann, a club pro from Long Island who qualified for the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Despite the presence of so many PGA Tour players, the circumstances are different from a regular tour event.
"Some are annoyed that they even have to be there," USGA executive director David Fay said. "You have a couple of bad holes and who knows? That's one way of approaching it. The other thinking is to compare her not with the PGA Tour players, but the non-tour players. Each year, a small number of them make it. She only has to be one of them."
Two years ago, when there were 22 spots available at Canoe Brook, a half-dozen players who qualified weren't on the PGA Tour.
"I don't know what the odds are, but if she plays good, I think she's in," said Sean O'Hair, who played a practice round with Wie at Waialae in January.
Wie made it through 18-hole local qualifying last month at Turtle Bay in Hawaii, another course she knows well. Some of the PGA Tour players, such as Brooks, Taylor and J.J. Taylor, were playing the final round Sunday at the Memorial in Ohio. They had to fly to New Jersey and be ready to tee it up Monday morning.
Wie arrived at Canoe Brook on Thursday and has been practicing every day. Her swing coach, David Leadbetter, arrived from Florida and has been fine-tuning her swing to keep it simple.
The intangible is how Wie performs for the crowd, from those in the gallery to those with cameras and notepads. She is comfortable in the spotlight and has a knack for making news. She played in the final group of her first LPGA major when she was 13, and had a chance to win the Kraft Nabisco this year until her eagle chip on the 18th hole ran 10 feet by and she missed the birdie putt to get into a playoff.
Even in her professional debut last October, she stole headlines when she was disqualified over a bad drop.
Els had his doubts about Wie until they played a practice round together in 2004 at the Sony Open. He said that day he never would have imagined a female having the talent or even getting the opportunity to play with the best in the world. "Give her another couple of years to get stronger," he said.
Now, Els is just as curious as anyone else.
"You've got to give her credit," he said. "She's 16, she's really coming on nicely now. At least this one she's qualifying for; she's not taking a spot from anybody. She's doing all the right things, and hopefully, she makes it."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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