U.S. OPEN GOLF QUALIFIER
Hawaii's Michelle Wie, 16, reacted yesterday after missing a birdie putt on the second North fairway of the U.S. Open sectional qualifying round in Summit, N.J.
Wie close, but misses
The Hawaii teen fails in her qualifying try for the U.S. Open men's tournament
SUMMIT, N.J. » Honolulu's Michelle Wie fell short in her bid to become the first woman to qualify for the U.S. Open, but she certainly created a stir yesterday in sectional qualifying at Canoe Brook Country Club.
Wie, 16, the youngest player in the field, looked like the Pied Piper as she walked onto the practice putting green behind the clubhouse one hour before her morning tee time.
Trailing in her wake were TV camera crews, a line of reporters and a large group of fans curious to see the teenager who was hoping to make golf history by becoming the first woman to qualify for any of the four men's major championships.
Her presence in large measure accounted for crowds estimated at 6,000, considerably more than the number usually found at U.S. Open qualifiers. The lion's share of the fans followed Wie.
Little girls wore "Wie-Heart-Wie" buttons. The Punahou School student said she was flattered that young girls know who she is. She called the buttons "cute."
"I was very surprised that this many people came," she said, noting that only about 30 people followed her for local qualifying in Hawaii. "I was very moved by the fan support."
Wie and her gallery of fans watched her shot fly on the 12th tee at the Canoe Brook Country Club. CLICK FOR LARGE
As a result of her star power, the United States Golf Association received approximately 200 requests for media credentials, far more than for a PGA Tour event. The parking lot was dotted with TV production trucks.
Wie was the story as she competed in the one-day, 36-hole event against 152 men for one of 18 spots in the 106th U.S. Open Championship June 15-18 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
She shot 2-under-par 68 during the morning round on the South Course. She followed with 3-over-par 75 in the afternoon on the more difficult North Course for a final total of 1-over 143, finishing tied for 59th. She was 3-over on her afternoon back nine.
Wie needed to shoot five strokes better than she did to make a playoff for the final U.S. Open berth. The medalist was PGA Tour pro Brett Quigley of Jupiter, Fla., at 11-under 131.
"I'm disappointed I didn't make it," said Wie, the first woman to reach sectional qualifying for a U.S. Open after finishing as medalist in local qualifying at Turtle Bay Resort. "I guess I'm satisfied with the way I tried. I just played my hardest."
Although noting there still is room for improvement, her father, B.J. Wie, a professor at the University of Hawaii, thought that overall his daughter played well.
"Her attempt to qualify for the men's U.S. Open shows many people there is a possibility to have women in a men's major," he said.
The field at Canoe Brook included notable pros Mark O'Meara, winner in 1998 of The Masters and British Open and 1996 PGA Championship winner Mark Brooks.
On the putting green before her first round, O'Meara walked up to Wie, took off his hat and shook hands with her.
"I said hello and wished her luck," O'Meara said. "I'd never met her before or seen her in person. Her accomplishments are unbelievable."
Her parents, including mother Bo, watched their daughter intently as she practiced her putting.
Wie's caddie, Greg Johnston, told B.J. he looked patriotic. Wie was wearing a red visor, white shirt and blue shorts.
Michelle's playing partners were the PGA Tour's David Gossett, winner of the 2001 John Deere Classic, and Rick Hartmann, head pro at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, N.Y.
"I thought Michelle Wie handled herself extremely professionally," said Gossett, who shot 146. "She managed her game well. She really was poised. She's really competitive, but she still has that shyness of a 16-year-old. ... At 16 she's amazing."
Hartmann was pulling for Wie to reach the U.S. Open.
"It would have been fantastic if she had made it," he said. "How great would that be for golf? She's definitely competitive. She is very, very good and she's only bloody 16."
Hartmann enjoys chatting on the course, and he found Wie a willing conversationalist.
"She's very easygoing out there," said Hartmann, who shot 146. "We chatted about a few things. She was very friendly, very enjoyable."
Wie began the competition with a smattering of applause as she walked to the first tee on the South Course. She smiled and raised her right hand to acknowledge the crowd.
Gossett turned to Wie just before teeing off first and said, "Have fun, OK?"
She teed off second and put her shot in the short rough on the left. She subsequently made a nice par save with a 10-foot putt.
Michelle Wie followed her shot yesterday on the first tee of the U.S. Open sectional qualifying round at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J. Wie, 16, started solidly but ultimately failed in her attempt to become the first woman to qualify for the U.S. Open. CLICK FOR LARGE
Wie birdied the sixth hole and continued on cruise control at 1-under until she reached No. 18, where she chipped in from about 70 feet for her second birdie.
She said she looked at her lie, and there were mushrooms all around it.
"You know you're in deep trouble when there's mushrooms around your ball," she said, smiling.
Wie selected a spot where she wanted the ball to land and hit it.
"Fortunately, the ball went in the hole," she said. "Those kind of shots don't really happen to me, so I was very surprised and very happy."
Superb ball-striking gave her a number of other birdie opportunities during the opening round, but her putting was not particularly sharp. She missed a 4-foot birdie at No. 4.
Until the chip-in, Wie said, "I felt like I was playing very well, but my score didn't show it as much as I wanted. ... I guess the ball was afraid of heights or something, because it didn't want to go in the hole."
As consistent as she was during the opening round, Wie was less so on the North Course, where she bogeyed No. 10, her first hole.
Nevertheless, she birdied 17, getting back to 2-under. But the final nine proved her undoing. That did not discourage her, and she plans to try to qualify for the U.S. Open again next year.
"I'm really excited for next year," she said. "Hopefully, next year will be the year."
She will compete in the McDonald's LPGA Championship starting Thursday at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md. It is the second of the four women's majors.
Wie, who turned pro last October and earns an estimated $8 million to $10 million a year in endorsements, tied for third at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year, in March.
She does not think yesterday's grueling test will leave her drained for this week's event.
"I'm just going to take the good things away from today, learn from the mistakes I made," she said. "After playing 36 holes in one day, playing 18 holes (a day) this week is going to be a breeze."
Whatever she does the rest of the his week, Hartmann, for one, predicts big things for Wie in the years to come.
"You guys are going to be writing about her for a long time," he said.