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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Wilson's day in the spotlight

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Dean Wilson remembers gazing in wonder down the right side of the fairway where photographers were wedged cheek-by-jowl in a row "a good 60 yards long."

Playing with Christel Tomori back at Navy-Marine Golf Course had never been like this.

Alternating between wide-eyed disbelief and steely focus, the Castle High graduate strode into his slice of history yesterday at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, playing with — and matching the first-round 1-over-par 71 score — of Annika Sorenstam, the first woman to play a PGA Tour event in 58 years.

"It was a circus, but it was a great day and it was great to watch Annika go about her game," the 33-year-old Wilson would say of the momentous morning spent in the spotlight with Sorenstam and Aaron Barber.

Not since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945 had a woman taken up the challenge of playing among the best golfers in the world, and media and spectators were packed five-deep behind the bulging ropes to take in the event.

"There were just a lot of people; people all over the place," Wilson, a PGA Tour rookie, told The Advertiser. "They handed out 530 media badges."

And there was no doubt who they had come to see. Not when Patrick Sheehan, who became the first-round leader with a 5-under 65, later told reporters, "we saw 10 people the whole day."

Tuesday, at the pre-tournament press conference, someone had asked Wilson about the last time he had played 18 holes with a woman in the group. It was, he recalled, some months back when he played in Hawai'i with Tomori, a Hilo native who plays on the Futures Tour.

But as Wilson was reminded time and again over the 7,080-yard haul, there would be no precedent for this day. Eleven years as a professional in a career that has taken him from Myanmar to Montreal on six different pro tours provided no point of reference for what happened yesterday.

Not on a day that began with an appearance on the Today Show and ended with CNN and The Golf Channel.

When they left the practice tee, Barber reminded the threesome, "Remember, we're doing this together."

So, this disparate group, three figures who had not met before they were thrown into the crucible of the spotlight by the luck of the draw, sought to encourage and reassure one another. "We talked a little bit," Wilson said.

When Sorenstam birdied No. 13, Wilson slapped her palm. When she saved par on another hole, they tapped knuckles. Afterward, as Annika's Army began to disperse, Sorenstam hugged her partners.

"I didn't play that great," Wilson said. "But I'm happy to get through it."

For this day, that was more than half the battle.