OAHU MEN'S U.S. OPEN QUALIFIER
CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Michelle Wie shot even par to win a Men's U.S. Open qualifier yesterday on the Arnold Palmer course at Turtle Bay.
Wie beats men in U.S. Open qualifier
She'll play at a New Jersey sectional for a chance to get into the U.S. Open
MICHELLE WIE'S reward for a job well done yesterday at beautiful, breezy Turtle Bay?
A trip to New Jersey.
It's a lot better than it sounds. It's actually a side trip, and one she will gladly make.
Wie shot an even-par 72 at the Arnold Palmer course, earning medalist honors at the Oahu men's U.S. Open qualifier. The 16-year-old Punahou junior is the first female to advance in such a satellite, USGA officials said.
"It's the U.S. Open," Wie said. "The name speaks for itself."
Wie beat everyone else in the 41-player field; all the males, plus Carmen Bendea, a 15-year-old girl from Atlanta.
Now Wie gets the chance to make reality of one of her trailblazing dreams -- playing in a men's major -- if she can battle to the top of what is expected to be a tough field of pros and elite amateurs at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., on June 5.
Wie selected that sectional ahead of time because she will be on the East Coast for the McDonald's LPGA Championship, June 9-12 at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Harve de Grace, Md.
Mid-Pacific Country Club assistant pro Joe Phengsavath and 15-year-old Tadd Fujikawa won the other two local spots yesterday, and they will play at the Poipu Bay Golf Course, Kauai, sectional, also June 5. The winner there goes to the U.S. Open.
Phengsavath shot 73 for second place, and Fujikawa won a three-way playoff with Regan Lee and Chan Kim on the third hole with a 60-foot birdie putt for third place.
Wie's mother, Bo, celebrated her birthday, but it was Michelle who was buried in gifts. In addition to stepping closer to history at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., June 15-18, it was also announced yesterday that she'd received an exemption to the women's U.S. Open, as well as an invitation to play in the Omega European Masters in September in Switzerland -- no big surprise, since Wie counts Omega among her many sponsors.
The Omega will be her first men's European Tour event.
"I think it's awesome, it's what I've always wanted to do," Wie said, of playing on so many different tours.
Two weeks ago, Wie made her first cut in a men's event, finishing tied for 35th at the Asian Tour's SK Telecom in South Korea, where she played to galleries reported at consistently at least 1,000-strong.
Yesterday, a small group of around 20, mostly officials, reporters and camera operators, followed Wie, Ryan Perez and Norman-Ganin Asao.
Despite recent wrist surgery, Perez started fast, going 3 under the first four holes; but the 2004 Manoa Cup champion faltered to finish with a 7-over 79, and disqualified himself for signing for a wrong score. Asao started slowly, but played well on the back nine to finish at 75.
CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Michelle Wie took a break with Ryan Perez during U.S. Open qualifying at the Arnold Palmer course at Turtle Bay yesterday.
Wie was inconsistent, but her game was strong enough for four birdies, despite the wind. The problem was she couldn't run any of them together, and she bogeyed after every birdie -- on the following hole three of the four times. Also, she was playing in a vacuum with no way to know how the rest of the field was performing.
"I was thinking like 2 under par (to advance). Coming down, I really had no idea," Wie said. "I was just grinding out there. And if I don't make it, at least I get a good score."
Both goals were in jeopardy on No. 17.
Wie hooked her tee shot into a brushy, wooded area only a forest ranger could love, about 40 feet from anything resembling recently-cut grass. She considered calling it unplayable and going back to tee off again, but decided a lateral recovery shot would be a better idea -- despite a nasty collection of Mother Nature's worst between her ball and the fairway.
She also had to deal with a 30-degree incline.
"It was tricky," Wie said. "The hill was pretty high, the tree was pretty low. I thought I could bounce it up the hill, but there were roots all over the place."
She chopped a 9-iron like a fungo grounder, and somehow, Wie's ball dodged the branches and brush and rocks and found its way back to civilization. Or close enough, 2 feet off the fairway, about 130 yards from the hole.
If that little dribbler wasn't the shot of the day, the ensuing 7-iron leaving her a 5-footer for par certainly qualified. It was one of those holes that proved not all pars are created equally.
"Very lucky, very lucky," she said.
"I made a lot of stupid mistakes, but I feel like I played solid," Wie said. "In an 18-hole deal, you can't really go back to that hole and redeem yourself. I just tried to play smart."
Only Phengsavath (second in both previous Hawaii sectionals) and Fujikawa advance to the sectional on Kauai from yesterday's round, but they might be joined by Parker McLachlin. The Punahou grad and Nationwide Tour player is attempting to qualify at a mainland local qualifier, but designated Poipu Bay as his sectional.
"I'm looking forward to it," Phengsavath said. "In 36 holes, anything can happen."