U.S. OPEN QUALIFYING
A huge gallery looked on as Michelle Wie teed off on the 11th hole during U.S. Open sectional qualifying yesterday in Summit, N.J. CLICK FOR LARGE
Wie a qualified star
Nearly 2,000 fans follow the 16-year-old's group, and the course closes after it reaches capacity
SUMMIT, N.J. » Bill Lord finished his night shift as a police supervisor in Clark, New Jersey, and headed right to Canoe Brook Country Club to watch Michelle Wie attempt to become the first woman to qualify for golf's U.S. Open.
"I haven't slept in almost 24 hours," Lord said in an interview while walking the course in Summit, New Jersey. "But this is history in the making, possibly. I told my wife I had to come and watch."
The 16-year-old Wie ultimately fell short in her quest to join Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot Golf Club in two weeks, tying for 59th in the field of 153 players. Yet she was in contention for one of the 18 U.S. Open berths until making three straight bogeys late in her second round.
"Even though she didn't make it, she competes with these guys," said Terry Sumner of Brooklyn, New York. "She carried herself remarkably well. I can't imagine doing that at 16."
Brett Quigley, a veteran on the U.S. PGA Tour, topped the 36-hole sectional qualifier at 11-under-par. PGA players Kevin Stadler, Kent Jones, Mark Brooks, J.J. Henry and Tom Pernice Jr. were among the other players earning U.S. Open spots.
While almost 50 U.S. PGA Tour players were in the field at Canoe Brook, Wie was the biggest draw. As other groups played alone, Wie's group was followed by a gallery of about 2,000 people. The course, which didn't charge admission, was closed to fans at 11 a.m. after it reached capacity.
"The crowd out there was four to five times what we've seen," said Jeannie McCooey, communications director for the Metropolitan Golf Association, which organized the event. "And we usually get maybe a dozen reporters. Today we've got nearly 200 and probably 199 of them are following Michelle."
Wally Kim, a golf professional at Stanton Ridge Golf and Country Club in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, took a day off from work and brought his two girls, 7-year-old Kirsten and 3- year-old Claudia, to watch Wie. Kirsten even got a ball from Wie at the ninth hole.
Michelle Wie watched her shot on the seventh hole of the North course during sectional qualifying yesterday.
"This is just a great experience," Kim said as he marched up the 12th fairway with Claudia on his back. "My girls are half Korean and they love Michelle. This is a great thing to share with them."
Since it is not a professional event, there were no ropes along the fairways to keep the fans -- some wearing pink "We love Wie" buttons -- away from the golfers.
"It's amazing, you can almost walk with them," Lord said.
Wie, who reached the sectional by winning her local qualifier in Hawaii, shot a 2-under 68 during her opening round even though she missed six birdie putts of less than 15 feet.
The 6-foot-tall Wie followed with a 75 in the second round at the longer and more difficult North Course, making three bogeys over her final six holes. She remained upbeat however, even stopping to give a ball to a young female fan after missing a three-foot par putt at her 32nd hole.
"A couple of shots here and there didn't go where I wanted, but I played through," Wie said at her post-round news conference. "It was a long day out there."
Wie's opening round matched her best score from the eight events she's played against men, having also shot a 68 at the PGA Tour's 2004 Sony Open. She was four strokes better than her two playing partners, former PGA Tour veteran David Gossett and Rick Hartmann, a club pro from Long Island.
"She's right there," said Sumner, a public school teacher. "Tee to green her game is as good as any PGA man. At 16, that's amazing. She's only going to get better."