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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 26, 2003

Before Wie, Planos big hit at women's Publinx

By Bill Kwon

"Winning is a great confidence booster," says Lori Planos, who won the first of her two U.S. Public Links titles in 1979 as Lori Castillo.

Advertiser library photo • July 2, 1979

It's thrilling, isn't it? Watching golf history in the making. Being around to witness someone, whom we can claim as one of our own, drawing all this attention. Since she first burst on the scene four years ago, 13-year-old Michelle Wie hasn't only wowed golf fans locally, she's now dazzling them nationally.

With her history-making victory as the youngest player to win the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, Wie has validated what we've known all along — that's she a golfing phenom unlike anyone we've seen coming out of Hawai'i.

We have had national champions before. Ten years before Wie was born, Lori Castillo (now Lori Planos) won the same championship in 1979 after graduating from Kaiser High School and again in 1980 after her freshman year at Tulsa. But even the former Publinx champion, who's married to Kapalua Resort's Gary Planos, is awed by Wie.

"No one's come along with this kind of talent. To hit 300-yard drives isn't common, even for men," Planos said. "It's such an unknown what she can do in the future."

Clearly, Wie is on an unprecedented path that is mind-boggling even to Planos and other long-time observers of local golf.

Planos was seen as the next Nancy Lopez, the best women's golfer at the time, after her back-to-back titles. She even attended Lopez's alma mater.

Nobody is comparing Wie to Annika Sorenstam, the best woman golfer today. Instead, the Punahou School ninth-grader, who will be 14 in October, is spoken of in the same breath as the No. 1 player on the men's tour, Tiger Woods.

Wie has goals that Planos never dreamed of, even though she played on Kaiser's golf team with the boys because there was no girls program then.

Wie just doesn't want to be the most dominant women's player. She wants to take on the guys, too. Now that she has shown that the sky's the limit, who's to say she can't or won't succeed.

Starting out as one of Casey Nakama's kids in his junior golf program, Wie, with her towering height and drives, soon found it to be kid stuff, mere child's play. She decided to take on older women in competition and won the Jennie K. Wilson Invitational at the age of 11.

She hasn't played Jennie K. since. Been there, done that. Perhaps she'll play in the event again before she graduates from Punahou School in 2007, if it doesn't conflict with her LPGA exemptions.

Planos played Jennie K. several times, shooting a tournament record 7-under 66 that still stands in winning her final appearance in 1983 before she turned pro. She also won a title in the Junior World Championships and the 1978 U.S. Junior Girls crown.

If anything, that's what Wie needs to take her game to the next level. The experience of winning is invaluable, no matter the competition, according to Planos.

"You cannot teach someone how to win. They've got to do it for themselves. That's why this was such a big win for her. She now has a trophy," Planos said.

"Michelle's showing in the Nabisco (Championship) was a win for her. It was a win for Annika just playing at Colonial. But they didn't really win, you know what I mean?"

What also impressed Planos was how Wie won the Publinx title, beating quality opponents such as Becky Lucidi, the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion, and 2002 NCAA champion, Virada Nirapathpongporn of Duke, in the 36-hole final.

"Winning is a great confidence booster," Planos said.

Coming back as the defending champion had a different feel, according to Planos.

"I was really nervous that first year," Planos said. So much so that she recalled Althea Tome, who was also representing Hawai'i in the event at Edina, Minn., asking her, "What's the problem?"

"I wanted to do well because the year before at Myrtle Beach I did not qualify," said Planos, who defeated former University of Hawai'i golfer Cindy Flom en route to the final against Becky Pearson, who also had played at UH for Lori's dad, Ron Castillo.

They were even going into the par-3 17th hole (they played only 18 holes then) when Planos birdied to go 1-up. She parred the 18th to win, 2-up.

The next year in Pennsylvania, Planos beat Pam Miller, 2 and 1, in the final.

"At first, I almost didn't want to go. I didn't want to make a fool of myself. But once you get there, you're treated like a defending champion. I wanted to prove it wasn't a fluke," Planos said.

Wie will be playing for the Punahou girls team when she becomes eligible to play high school golf. Will it be less challenging?

Perhaps, but it will give Wie the experience of winning, according to Planos. Also, by toting her own bag, Wie will play her own game, perhaps even trying some creative shot-making, like her idol, Woods.

Meanwhile, Wie is playing in the ShopRite Classic starting tomorrow near Atlantic City, N.J., where she will try to make her third cut in as many LPGA events this year. Then, it's back across country next week to Portland, Ore., for the U.S. Women's Open.

And perhaps more history in the making.

Bill Kwon can be reached at bkwon@aloha.net.