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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 21, 2001

Punahou's Wie, 11, romps in Jennie K. golf

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

LANIKAI — Ah, to be young and in total control of one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in Hawai'i.

Michelle Wie, an 11-year-old Punahou sixth-grader, tees off on No. 12 at Mid-Pacific Country Club. Wie became the youngest winner of the annual Jennie K. Wilson Invitational.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Punahou sixth grader Michelle Wie breezed to a nine-shot victory in the 51st annual Jennie K. Wilson Invitational yesterday at Mid-Pacific Country Club. She doesn't look like a sixth grader, and absolutely does not play like one, but today Wie is the youngest Jennie K. champion.

A growth spurt last year pushed Wie, now 5-foot-9, past her 5-7 mother, Hyun Kyong. Michelle expects to pass her 6-2 father/caddy Byung-Wook in the near future. Her shoe size is the same as her age, 11.

Wie nearly won by that many strokes yesterday, in a breathtaking wire-to-wire performance marred only by a triple-bogey hiccup on the next-to-last hole. She closed with a 76, for a tournament total of 4-over-par 220 — the fourth-lowest score ever.

Defending champion Bobbi Kokx (74-229) took second, then took a shot at describing what she witnessed playing with Wie.

"There are some good 14-year-olds, and 16- and 17-year-olds, but not many 11-year-olds have that physique and that complete package," said Kokx, who used to coach the University of Hawai'i Wahine and now teaches third grade at Kihei (Maui) Elementary. "It's incredible to watch her play. Just her strength, and deadly putting."

Former Wahine Desiree Ting (80-232) and Moanalua sophomore Ayumi Hori (79-232) tied for third and state high school girls champion Rachel Kyono (76-233) was fifth. But they were all chasing Wie on the leaderboard, where she went into the final round with an eight-shot advantage, and in the fairway, where she launched towering drives 40 and 50 yards past everyone.

Kokx figured Wie hit it 260-270 yards off the tee. "And she hits it high. I think she's losing distance," Kokx said.

Wie went into yesterday at even par and was still there a dozen pars into the final round. She bogeyed 13 and 14 — "I think she fell asleep," her father said — then ripped a drive up the hill, into the wind on the par-5 16th (377 yards) that left her with an 8-iron approach shot.

Two putts later, she had her only birdie of the day. Two shots after that, she blasted out of a fairway bunker with a 7-iron, and out of bounds on the right, taking triple-bogey as punishment.

"She wanted to go for the green and hit a little thin shot," said Byung-Wook, who analyzes every shot his daughter takes, before she takes it. "I let her do it because it was a good lesson for her. If she succeeded, it was a good lesson. If she failed, same thing."

After the 12th hole, Ting, Hori and Kokx were all 11 back. Only Kokx, who shot the day's best round, could cut it to single digits.

"The gameplan was to try and shoot in the 60s," Kokx said. "Go as low as I could. I played solid today. I was happy with the way I played ... I just couldn't get that low number."

When it was over Wie, too young to even drive a golf cart, had one stop to make before Jennie K's legendary awards banquet.

"I promised to buy her the Oakley sunglasses in the pro shop if she won," Byung-Wook said. "That was the deal. She was more interested in Oakley. She doesn't realize the prestigiousness of the tournament yet."

His daughter denied that.

"It feels really great," Michelle said. "I felt like I won the U.S. Open."

• • •

SHORT PUTTS: Jackie Yates Holt was the youngest previous winner, capturing the 1951 title at the age of 14. ... Last summer, Michelle Wie was the youngest amateur ever to play in U.S. Golf Association championship when she represented Hawai'i in the Public Links.