Organizers of the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Summit, N.J., are scrambling to accommodate a horde of media and fans that will be on hand to see if Michelle Wie can make history tomorrow.
Crazy for Wie
SUMMIT, N.J. » Greg Lecker's phone was ringing again, and the caller had a variation on the same questions the Canoe Brook Country Club pro has been hearing for the past two weeks:
Is she really coming? How do I get tickets? How many people do you think will show up?
Lecker has rubbed elbows with a fair cross-section of golf royalty in his 17 years at the northern New Jersey course. Pictures of him with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson line his office walls.
It's unlikely any of them would have created the level of buzz that surrounds the arrival of Punahou's Michelle Wie.
Tomorrow, Wie will try to become the first woman to qualify for the men's U.S. Open at the sectional tournament here. Her decision to play at Canoe Brook has sent organizers scrambling to accommodate what is expected to be a crush of media and fans eager to see if the 16-year-old can make history.
"This is off the charts," Lecker said between calls from media outlets and club members angling for information. "The phones have never been busier. It's exciting. We're all fortunate to have a monumental thing taking place. If she actually makes it Monday, it's going into the history books."
Nestled in this well-heeled suburb next to a mall featuring Fendi and Neiman-Marcus, Canoe Brook is no stranger to celebrities. Its location and its spot on the golf calendar right before a PGA Tour event in nearby Westchester County, N.Y., has made it a convenient stop over the years for up-and-comers and veterans angling for a berth in the U.S. Open field.
Wie quietly made her first appearance at the course Thursday afternoon with swing coach David Leadbetter and barely caused a ripple. That is unlikely to be the case tomorrow.
In a normal year, about a thousand spectators would be considered a good turnout at the sectional tournament; perhaps five times that, or more, could show up at some point during the 36-hole tournament this year.
The Metropolitan Golf Association, which administers the event under the auspices of the United States Golf Association, has been inundated with media requests.
"In a normal year we would probably get about a dozen media, mostly local with a few from surrounding areas like Philadelphia," said MGA spokeswoman Jeanne McCooey. "This year we're well over 125 already that have requested to be on site."
So intense is the interest that ESPN plans live cut-ins every half-hour, and will also offer stroke-by-stroke coverage of Wie's rounds on its Web site and broadband products.
The course is accessible by a one-way, two-lane access road, and no public parking is available on the course grounds. That has forced organizers to appropriate part of the parking lot at a mall which borders the western edge of Canoe Brook's North course.
Mall manager Michael McAvinue estimated about 1,000 parking spaces would be made available for spectators. Extra mall security personnel have been added to handle the crowd, and local police will direct traffic on the access road.
"I think we can handle it," said McAvinue. "It just depends on how many people show up. Fortunately it's on a Monday. We'll see. We may be crying uncle."
Wie is scheduled to tee off at 2:35 a.m. Hawaii time on the South course and start on the North course at about 8:20 a.m. Hawaii time. Historically, the North course has proved more challenging, particularly the final three holes: the uphill 431-yard 16th and downhill 455-yard 17th, both par-4s, and No. 18, a par-5 that is straight as a yardstick but 601 yards long.
"The fairways are narrower, the greens are smaller on the North course," said Lecker. "If you miss the greens, your short game is tested a little harder than on the South course."
Of the 152 other golfers entered in the tournament, few will face more distractions than David Gossett and Rick Hartmann, Wie's playing partners.
"I know everybody in the world is interested in watching her and not me," Gossett said. "I think it's great for the game. My situation is to go out there and play like I can, enjoy it and smile, show some poise and have a good day."