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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, June 12, 2003

Rookie Wilson finds fame isn't fleeting after all

The gallery at the U.S. Open should recognize Dean Wilson, who became a household name after playing a historic round with Annika Sorenstam.

Associated Press

 •  Aces prove to be elusive

By Nancy Armour
Associated Press

U.S. Open

Where: Olympia Fields Country Club (Ill.), North Course (7,190 yards, par 70).

When: Today through Sunday.

Today on television: ESPN 5 a.m.-9 a.m., 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — A month ago, Dean Wilson could go through a golf tournament practically unnoticed so few people knew who he was.

These days the Kane'ohe native can't make it to the locker room without someone stopping him for an autograph. Girls follow him around the course like groupies, and corporate sponsors and tournaments are eager to sign him up.

All because he happened to draw Annika Sorenstam as one of his playing partners at the Colonial.

"A lot of people know me from playing with Annika. That's only positive for me," Wilson said at the U.S. Open, which starts today. "I'm proud to say I was the one with her."

Wilson and Aaron Barber were randomly selected by a computer to play with Sorenstam at the Colonial, where she became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour. Though some players made it clear they didn't want her around, Wilson and Barber went out of their way to make her feel welcome.

"I knew I was one of the seven guys that could get paired with her because I was in the same category, and I was hoping I did," said Wilson, a Castle High graduate now living in Las Vegas. "I wanted to be alongside her and watch her play and be a part of it."

Still, supporting Sorenstam and surviving in the whirlwind that followed her are two different things. Yet Wilson did it — and the graciousness he showed has won him hundreds of new fans.

"His name is so much more well-known than before," said Dennis Harrington, Wilson's manager. "And the reason it's gotten to where it is is because of the kind of person Dean is."

Dean Wilson said it was a joy to play with Annika Sorenstam, who last month became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour.

Associated Press

While many people would have come unglued at the attention Sorenstam generated — their first two rounds were televised and thousands followed them on the course — Wilson took it in stride. A warm, outgoing guy, he and Sorenstam quickly became friends.

They laughed and joked around, and exchanged high-fives when she made good shots. After their first round, he gave her a congratulatory hug.

"Watching her go about her business, how she plays her game and attacks the golf course, I learned a lot from watching her," Wilson said. "Not only that, but she's a nice, fun person to play a round of golf with."

His game didn't suffer, either. After opening with a 1-over 71 the first day, he had a 67 in the second round and was the only member of the threesome to make the cut. He wound up 21st.

"Every hole there was so many people, and every second they were yelling for her. It was fantastic. It was kind of like being with Jack or Arnold Palmer in a celebratory tournament where everybody's just cheering them on," said Wilson, a rookie on the PGA Tour after three years on the Japanese Tour.

He added: "I knew it was a big thing, but it turned out to be the biggest sporting spectacle of a couple of weeks in the world."

And now he's reaping the benefits of it.

Mike Weir, left, chats with Dean Wilson during a practice round for the U.S. Open, which begins today.

Associated Press

Wilson had deals with Callaway, Corel and Tommy Bahama before Colonial, and Harrington said they're sifting through more offers for next season. His appearance fee for tournaments has gone up, too.

"If Dean continues to play well, then it's not going to be just Annika and post-Annika," Harrington said. "It's going to be a career."

For Wilson, the best thing he got out of Colonial is a new friend.

"She's such a great person," Wilson said. "That's the part I enjoyed, being with her for 36 holes and watching how she handled herself with the media, how she handled herself with the gallery, on the course, the other players.

"That's how a champion in any sport should handle themselves with the people," he added. "And I thought it was great to have a firsthand, front-row seat to it."