FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii golfer Dean Wilson is beginning to market himself after finishing in the top 25 on the PGA Tour money list last year.
Wilson hawks Hawaii
The Golf Channel plans to air 90-second segments with the PGA Tour golfer promoting his home state
WHO IS Dean Wilson?
In an informal survey taken a couple of weeks ago, about five out of six people on Oahu know he's one of the best golfers in the world, and he's from Hawaii.
The person asking?
None other than Dean Wilson himself.
"One guy looked at me and said, 'You look a lot like him.' Another didn't know it was me right away, but he said, 'Eh, you somebody, yeah?' "
Wilson was taping a segment for The Golf Channel, part of his transition from semi-anonymous, middle-of-the-pack PGA Tour pro to sports celebrity.
The 37-year-old Castle graduate from Kaneohe wants to make sure he does it without losing the edge that helped him climb up the PGA Tour ranks. He broke through last year with his first tour win, at The International, and was 22nd on the money list with more than $2.5 million.
"I can't sit on my laurels," Wilson said. "A two-year exemption goes real fast."
Wilson cherishes his privacy, but he also realizes that his job is even more public now. And he also wants to be a role model for young golfers in Hawaii.
"I'm starting to learn how to do it. It's a little different now, and I have to accept that responsibility," he said. "I'm just an average person, and (golf fans are) looking at me like I'm someone important."
Last night at Waialae Country Club, Wilson talked about his breakthrough year and some projects he worked on with Emme Tomimbang, who has been helping in Wilson's marketing and public relations efforts.
While the Tour's opening swing runs through the islands next month with the Mercedes-Benz Championships at Kapalua and the Sony Open at Waialae, the Golf Channel will air 90-second vignettes called "Dean Wilson's Hawaii."
The Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau came up with the idea.
"The thought is to enhance Dean Wilson as one of Hawaii's own as well as promote golf in Hawaii, to show off Hawaii as a golf destination," HVCB president and CEO John Monahan said. "When we approached the Golf Channel they loved it. They said Dean is an up-and-coming star."
The original idea was "What Dean Wilson does on his days off," the golfer said. "But that would be a pretty boring show so we incorporated personalities."
One of the segments co-stars eight-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater -- who also happens to be nearly a scratch golfer. He and Wilson hit the links and the waves.
"I didn't know him, but I knew he always hangs around the Sony Open. I was shocked. He's a phenomenal athlete," Wilson said. "And he plays barefoot. He's like Tiger Woods."
For Wilson, it was the first time on a board, and he got some instruction from Slater.
"I never surfed. I was, 'What is a surf lesson?' "
A little risky undertaking a few months before his first Masters?
"I didn't think I would kill myself and the lifeguards were there," said Wilson, who managed to ride a 5-foot wave on the second try.
Other segments will feature Wilson golfing with celebrity chefs Sam Choy and Alan Wong, whale watching on Maui, receiving the key to the city from Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, with ace instructor Casey Nakama sharing tips with junior golfers, and returning to Pali Golf Course, where he learned to play.
"Whenever Dean wants to put away the clubs, he has a great career ahead of him in TV," said Tomimbang, who has been involved in Hawaii television since the 1970s as a newscaster and then with her own feature productions. "He's great in front of the camera."
The segments also gave Wilson a chance to get in touch with his local roots. He doesn't get to spend as much time in Hawaii as he'd like because of Tour demands, and he lives in Las Vegas because it is easier for travel considerations and to practice for tournaments. One reason is the distinct difference between greens here and on the mainland.
"This is an opportunity to showcase Hawaii and let people know I'm from here and I was born and raised here," he said. "If some kid from Pali Golf Course can get himself on the Tour, other kids can, too."
When Wilson was a young golfer, David Ishii served as his inspiration. The Kauai born-and-bred Ishii won the Hawaiian Open (now the Sony) in 1990. Wilson said he feels the Aloha PGA Hall-of-Famer (who failed in a qualifier earlier this month) should have a lifetime exemption.
"If I were the one making the decision, I'd give him an exemption as long as he wanted," said Wilson, who didn't always get one himself for previous Sony Opens. "Of course, I'm not the one writing the checks, and I don't want to tell them how to run the tournament. And I don't hold a grudge from when I didn't get one. I just think David being from here and a champion here, he's a big part of this tournament."