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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 3, 2004

Wie's exemption opposed

By Ron Sirak
Golf World Executive Editor

Should Michelle Wie be an exemption to the rule?

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Twenty-three of 30 LPGA Tour members polled last week at an event were opposed to 14-year-old Michelle Wie's exemption into the July 1-4 U.S. Women's Open, Golf World magazine reports in this week's issue.

The survey of 30 LPGA Tour members by Golf World was conducted at the Corning Classic last week.

Some said the exemption was unfair to players who had to qualify and disrespectful of veterans who usually receive special exemptions. Several players said Wie was being denied the learning experience of playing under the pressure of qualifying.

In May, the 6-foot Honolulu phenom became the first amateur to receive a free pass to the biggest tournament in women's golf.

"She is an exceptional talent and has proven herself against the best players in the world," Jeanne Myers, chairman of the USGA Women's Committee said at the time.

The players surveyed came from seven countries and 12 were winners of USGA events. Thirteen were among the top 35 on the LPGA money list, which is the cutoff for an automatic spot in the Open. Position on the money list did not affect opinions. Of the seven who said Wie deserved an exemption, four had not earned an automatic spot.

Those supporting the exemption for Wie said she earned it through her play in LPGA events and that her presence would help ticket sales and TV ratings.

The USGA justified the exemption by saying that had Wie been a professional she would have been 28th on the money list at the exemption deadline, thus playing her way in. (Wie, in just three LPGA tournaments, would have earned more than $130,000 if she were a professional.)

"I am disappointed with the USGA," said Heather Daly-Donofrio, who spoke for attribution even though players were guaranteed anonymity in exchange for their opinion.

"I just wish they would be honest about their motivations. It's about the money. This was a sponsor's exemption, not a special exemption. She is a special player, but this is wrong."

Daly-Donofrio is a player director on the LPGA Board. Four of the nine player directors were interviewed and all opposed the exemption.

"She is missing out on a learning experience," said a former USGA champion. "It toughens you to have to qualify. If you miss out, it makes you want it even more."

Lisa DePaulo, who advanced in a local qualifier last week, had no problem with Wie's exemption. "Not any 14-year-old, but this one is special," she said.

The U.S. Women's Open is July 1-4 at Orchards GC in South Hadley, Mass. Dottie Pepper and Betsy King were granted exemptions into the Open before Wie's last week.