STAR-BULLETIN / JANUARY 2006
Punahou student Michelle Wie attracted large galleries when she played in the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club.
Not all embracing Wie at qualifier
Some others trying for the U.S. Open see her as a distraction
Some PGA Tour players who will try to gain entry to the U.S. Open by playing in a sectional qualifier at New Jersey's Canoe Brook Country Club have a message for organizers of the event: Don't put me in Michelle Wie's group.
Wie, the 16-year-old Punahou student with 300-yard tee shots and dreams of playing on the men's tour, wants to become the first woman to qualify for the U.S. Open. She cleared the initial hurdle by winning a local qualifier at Turtle Bay's Arnold Palmer Course, and on June 5 she is expected to draw a gallery and media herd the likes of which Canoe Brook, a 36-hole private club in Summit, N.J., has never seen.
The field will consist of about 156 golfers who will play 36 holes, split between Canoe Brook's North and South courses. Approximately 20 of those golfers will earn berths in the U.S. Open, which will be contested at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., later in June. The USGA has not announced the exact number of spots to be awarded at Canoe Brook, but one thing is certain: Some of the other players -- all male -- would rather not be part of the circus atmosphere.
"I'm sure there will be some fans and media there," Vaughn Taylor said at the PGA Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. "Hopefully, I won't get paired with her and I can get away from it. It's kind of a long day, so you really don't want to be dealing with that for 36 holes."
Added golfer Brian Gay with a laugh, "Hopefully, I won't be close to her. Hopefully, I'll be on the other course."
An e-mail from the Metropolitan Golf Association, which helps the United States Golf Association coordinate the event, was sent to members of the media last week requesting a list of the reporters and photographers who will be covering the qualifier. In the past, media members -- and there were never more than a dozen or so -- could just show up.
At Canoe Brook, galleries for qualifying events -- usually attended by friends and family of the golfers, Canoe Brook members and die-hard golf fans -- rarely exceeded a few hundred. Fuzzy Zoeller, a wise-cracking, fan-friendly U.S. Open champion, has been Canoe Brook's biggest draw, but that was back in the 1990s, when he still was competitive on the PGA Tour.
Wie's gallery is likely to dwarf Zoeller's loyalists, even if Bernhard Langer is not sure what to expect. Langer, a two-time Masters champion, has chosen Canoe Brook as his sectional qualifier, but he is not sure he will compete.
"She has the right to play," Langer said at the PGA Colonial. "Anyone who thinks they're good enough has the right to play. But (the Wie spectacle) has been going on for two years, so I don't know how long it's going to last."
One player is embracing the spectacle and wants to be part of it, so don't be surprised if organizers match him with Wie.
"I'd love to be paired with her," Brett Quigley said. "It seems like I play better with more of a crowd or in harder conditions, and I'd know there would be a big crowd there. It would be a great 36 holes.
"I love it. She's obviously a great player. I really don't care whether it's a man, woman, child or whatever. If it's a person who can play golf, let them play. I think it's a great idea, and she certainly has some great skills."
Wie's presence in men's tour events and her attempt to gain entry to the U.S. Open has been met with skepticism from male pros around the world. Recently, European Tour member Jean Van de Velde said, "I have no objection to Michelle Wie or any other women playing in our tournaments so long as we are allowed to play in theirs. And, yes, I'm ready to play in a skirt."
Canoe Brook usually draws one of the largest U.S. Open qualifying fields for mainly two reasons: The pros believe the course will yield low scores; and, with a large field, more berths are available. This year, PGA events in the area make this qualifier fit conveniently into the pros' schedules.
The North Course is more than 7,000 yards long. The South Course is about 300 yards shorter but is considered tighter. The layouts, tweaked by golf architect Rees Jones, should not intimidate the long-hitting Wie, who recently made the cut in a men's Asian Tour event.
"My hat's off to her if she can make it," PGA Tour pro Harrison Frazar said. "It's a hard thing to do. I don't know if she's going to do it, but there are 160 guys for 20 spots, and that's the biggest field and supposedly the most sought location. So it's a tall order."
And is he expecting a crazy day?
"Oh, yeah," he said. "It's going to be nuts."