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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2002

Diverse field for Pearl Open

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Few events celebrate Hawai'i's diversity as enthusiastically as the Hawai'i Pearl Open, which opens its 24th annual run today with the Pro-Am at Pearl Country Club. The $80,000 tournament begins tomorrow with nearly 200 golfers.

Michelle Wie is the lone female participant in the Hawai'i Pearl Open. "I like beating the guys," the 12-year-old says.

Advertiser library photo • June 5, 2001

Michelle Wie's entry might be the most compelling. The 12-year-old is the first female to play in the Open. Like everyone else, she will hit from the blue tees, and try to avoid PCC's tough rough and navigate its confusing greens.

"The fairway grass is really good," says Wie, who has never played Pearl from any tees other than the blue. "And the greens are really interesting. They're hard to read, kinda weird."

She's playing this week to "see where I stand," and because "I like beating the guys." Her competition is all male and spans the globe.

Nearly half the field comes from Japan. That includes the inaugural champion, Namio Takasu, who is pushing for his second Pearl championship as he pushes 60.

It does not include Hidemichi Tanaka, whose eagle on the 53rd hole last year gave him the championship over Hilo's Gregory Meyer. The two played the final day in a combined 15-under par. Tanaka has since qualified for the PGA Tour and is playing on the West Coast.

Tanaka and Meyer, who will play this year, overtook Hilo Muni pro Kevin Hayashi in last year's final round. Hayashi, the 2001 Aloha Section PGA Player of the Year, is going for his third Pearl championship. His last came in 2000, when he became the first Hawai'i golfer to win at Pearl in five years.

Jeff Cook, of Indianapolis, won in 1999 and is back. The previous three years Japanese pros won the championship. That broke a 10-year drought for the JPGA, now the Japan Golf Tour Organization.

That tour is well represented here, despite a $12,000 first-place prize that is the take for some caddies on the JGTO. And the tour, like Hawai'i, takes pride in its diversity.

Dinesh Chan, from Fiji, is here to work on his game before the JGTO season starts next month. So is Korean Jong Duck Kim and Hawai'i's Dean Wilson and Meyer.

But Wilson, who was third on the JGTO money list last year, hardly looks at the Pearl Open as practice.

"I don't treat it as a warmup," Wilson says. "I wanted to win it as a little kid. I want my picture up in the foyer and I want to hold the trophy up."

David Ishii, Pearl's Director of Golf, has won this tournament six times. He won't play this week because of his commitments as tournament coordinator. He will return to the JGTO next month, in search of his 15th Japanese title.

Wilson believes Ishii's ties in Japan are an integral part of this tournament's success. Organizers have always enjoyed a huge following in Japan. After Sept. 11, they weren't sure what the reaction would be, but the level of enthusiasm is actually up.

"I think it's the connection David has, and his relationship with the players over there (in Japan)," Wilson says. "They all look forward to playing some golf. It's a good break, they get out of the cold weather and a few Japanese players are here on vacation anyway."

This year's Japanese contingent also includes Takenori Hiraishi, who won the KBC Augusta last year, Tommy Nakajima's son Masao, former Pearl champion Kiyoshi Murota and former Japan Amateur champion Shusaku Sugimoto.

Randy Shibuya, who won the Hawai'i State Amateur at Pearl 10 months ago, is part of a Hawai'i contingent that includes Manoa Cup winner Ryan Koshi and reigning high school champion Jarrett Hamamoto.

And, of course, Wie, who captured two of Hawai'i's three women's majors in 2001.

"She's won a lot of tournaments," Wilson says, "and she does everything very fundamentally sound. The most impressive thing is her size at 12 years old. She's not only talented beyond anyone her age, but she's genetically superior too. She's a lot bigger and stronger than most 12-year-olds. She's 5-10 now."

And hoping to at least make the cut Saturday, which would have her within the top 80. Her next challenge — beyond seventh grade — will be the LPGA Takefuji Classic, Feb. 28-March 2 at Waikoloa. Wie has received an invitation to play in the Monday qualifier. She is also planning to enter the Hawai'i State Amateur Stroke Play Championship the week after.

Wilson's schedule includes the Hilo Invitational next weekend, and hopefully the World Match Play event. He is 73rd in this week's World Golf Rankings; the top 64 qualify.

Today's Pro-Am purse of $4,000 will be donated to the American Red Cross for disaster relief.