10 WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE
The Castle High grad qualified for his first appearance in the Masters
Golfer’s dedication pays off with PGA Tour win
Dean Wilson possesses one of the smoothest swings in golf. But his recent success is as much a tribute to hard-nosed grinding and dedication as it is to natural talent.
Wilson, 37, finally broke through with a victory on the PGA Tour last August, winning a tournament called the International. Fitting, since his long path to the big league of golf went through Australia, Asia and Canada before he secured a spot on the tour in 2003.
The Castle High School graduate from Kaneohe barely scraped by at times, taking jobs in pro shops to make ends meet. There is nothing wrong with making a living teaching golf, and Wilson could do that; competitors often approach him for swing advice on the tour practice tees.
But he knew he was good enough to win, so he kept playing. He gained a measure of notoriety in 2003, but it had nothing to do with the way he played; that was when Wilson was partnered with Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial, when Sorenstam, the queen of the LPGA Tour, played in a men's Tour event.
"That was always a positive for me, playing with her, and that was a great experience," Wilson said in August. "But that's what I kept telling myself ... I've got to win a tournament so I can be known for something else."
Wilson said it helped that he made enough money early in the 2006 season to virtually guarantee exempt status for the next year. That meant he could play with more freedom, taking more chances to go for the lower scores needed to win a tournament.
When he birdied the second playoff hole at the International, he edged Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman. He did it in typical Wilson style, with a sweet 8-iron approach to within 6 feet of the hole -- a relatively easy putt for Wilson, one of the best on tour with the flat stick.
Wilson became the first Hawaii-born-and-raised player to win a mainland PGA Tour event. Ted Makalena in 1966 and David Ishii in 1990 are the only other Tour winners from the islands, both winning at the Hawaiian Open.
The win was the highlight of a year in which Wilson won $2,509,857 and finished 22nd on the money list. He made 23 cuts in 34 tries and averaged 70.67 per round.
He also qualified for his first appearance in the Masters. Wilson will be joined in Augusta by at least one other Hawaii player, as Casey Watabu of Kapaa, Kauai, earned a spot by winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship.
Wilson starts this season in his home state next month. He joins an elite field at the Mercedes-Benz Championships at Kapalua on Maui, as the PGA Tour starts its year with a tournament open to winners from the previous season. Then it is on to Waialae Country Club and the Sony Open -- a tournament for which Wilson often relied upon a sponsor's exemption; with his new status, that is no longer needed.
Last week, Wilson was honored by Mayor Mufi Hannemann with the Honolulu Hero Award at a ceremony at the Pali Golf Course, where Wilson first learned to play golf.
Every day through year's end, the Star-Bulletin will recognize 10 who changed Hawaii this year. Some were controversial, others shunned the spotlight. But all made a difference.