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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 16, 2002

Wie in second LPGA event

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Michelle Wie, left, hugs her mother after playing in pro-am.

Associated Press

This week in Lanikai, the 52nd annual Jennie K. Wilson Invitational tees off with one of Hawai'i's finest women's fields, as usual.

This week in North Augusta, S.C., the unusually precocious golf career of Michelle Wie — Jennie K's defending champion — logs another chapter. Wie is playing in the LPGA's Asahi Ryokuken International Championship on a sponsor's exemption.

The tour's seventh-most lucrative tournament ($1.2 million purse) is played 12 miles north of Augusta National. The other sponsor exemption went to Shinobu Moromizato, 15, Japan's top junior amateur.

Last year, Moromizato became the youngest to make a cut in a Japan LPGA tournament. In February, Wie became the youngest to Monday qualify for an LPGA event. She shot rounds of 74-72 at the Takefuji Classic at Waikoloa Beach, and missed the cut by two strokes.

It was the latest in a series of firsts for Wie, a 12-year-old Punahou seventh-grader. Two years ago she became the youngest to qualify for the U.S Women's Public Links and last year she became the youngest to advance. She qualified for her third Publinx last weekend.

That means she will miss at least two of the three major Hawai'i women's golf events this year; Publinx is played the same week as the match play championship — the one major Wie did not win last year.

Yesterday, Wie played in the Pro-Am with Sweden's Carin Koch and three other amateurs. On the first hole, the team used Wie's 300-yard drive down the fairway.

It wouldn't be the last time, and several laser-like Wie approach shots also contributed to a 16-under-par team total. And one tired seventh-grader. Wie was fast asleep by 8 last night, but her father, BJ, is optimistic about today's first round, for an odd reason.

"Michelle's swing was a little off today," said BJ, a University of Hawai'i professor who is moonlighting as caddy this week. "At Takefuji, Michelle's driver and irons were all perfect in the Pro-Am and the next day she couldn't find the same feeling. This will be better. She found the speed on her putting later today, too. It was good because the Pro-Am was more relaxed."

Wie played a practice round with pros Grace Park and Cristie Kerr Tuesday. Their example helped Wie and her father agree on a conservative strategy for Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club, a 6,455-yard layout with several radical doglegs. At Takefuji, Wie hit driver on every tee but the par-3's; yesterday she hit several 4-woods and even a 3-iron off one tee.

"The first day she hit a driver on one of the holes and the ball went into the woods," BJ said. "If I'm going to be caddying, I want to be safe on the fairway."

Michelle's only regret is that she won't be able to hear her name announced as defending champion this week at Mid-Pacific Country Club. She submitted her Jennie K. entry the first day, then received the LPGA invitation.

Jennie K. begins tomorrow morning with a full field of 128 players. Golfers younger than 16 with a single-digit handicap are eligible to play in Championship Flight.

That allows Stephanie Kono, who won last year's State Match Play Championship at the age of 11, in along with Kamehameha freshman Mari Chun, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu champion.

State high school champion Leah Whiting, a WaiŒkea senior, is also in the field, as are the two golfers who chased her in at last week's championship — freshman teammate Amanda Wilson and Kaua'i High junior Lehua Wise.

The flight is not completely composed of wunderkinds. It also includes elementary school teacher Bobbi Kokx, who won the Jennie K. in 2000 and 1984, and 1981 champion Bev Kim.

The Championship Flight tees off at approximately 7:30 a.m. tomorrow, 8:15 a.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. the final round. Admission is free.

SHORT PUTTS: Michelle Wie will stay on the Mainland and play in a U.S. Women's Open first-round qualifier Wednesday, in Duluth, Ga. .... Wie and Carmen Banea, an 11-year-old from Georgia, will play a practice round together at Duluth's Standard Club next week. Banea is the youngest player ever accepted into U.S. Women's Open qualifying. She has tried — and failed — to Monday qualify for two LPGA events this month. ... Banea's dream is to star in professional tennis and golf. At one point, she was training simultaneously at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. ... Wie plans to play in the Manoa Cup the week of June 3. Last year, she became the first female to qualify for match play. ... All four rounds of the Asahi Ryokuken International Championship will be shown on The Golf Channel, from 7-10 a.m. today and tomorrow and 8-11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. ... Asahi Ryokuken, which invited Wie to play, has just one product — Ryokko Aojiru, a powdered drink mix made from green barley leaves.