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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wie brings sparkle to any event

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

KAPOLEI Michelle Wie strode into the Fields Open interview tent, chandelier ear rings sparkling, and immediately a couple dozen reporters snapped to action, flipping open notebooks, pens poised.

Wie bounced into her seat testing the over-stuffed cushion and camera shutters clicked with machine gun rapidity.

With the better-late-than-never arrival of Wie, there was a palpable surge in energy to the opening of the LPGA Tour for 2006. A bubbling of much-needed expectation and excitement. Power vacuum solved.

Now, with her teeing off today at 7:48 a.m. in the inaugural Fields Open at Ko Olina Golf Club, and a buzz in place, it is feeling like the Tour has really come to Hawai'i after all.

Which makes you wonder why, now that it really has something to sell, the LPGA has curiously chosen to hardline its media outlets this week. The Tour's decision to attempt to control re-use of pictures and accounts of the tournament cost it coverage yesterday by the Associated Press, which serves 6,700 newspaper, radio and television outlets in the U.S. and 8,500 additional clients in 121 other countries. Other media could follow suit.

Too bad, because whether you adore the 16-year-old or think far too much is made of her in the absence of some championships on the mantel, she is neverthless a compelling figure. Her presence invites talk and stirs emotions, witness the controversy du jour, her third-place standing in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings.

The rankings, which debuted Tuesday, are a little like college basketball's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) in November or Top 25 college football ratings in September in that they don't mean much early and are subject to wholesale change in a matter of weeks.

Yet because Wie is Wie and has played but 16 events over the past two years mostly as an amateur they have been the talk of the week so far, even if we're told several players have chosen to fume privately.

This is what Wie gives a tournament, a focus and a flavor. She doesn't even have to try. Just being there is enough. Recall what her presence has done at the Sony Open in Hawai'i. And what her absence has meant after the cut. It is why tournaments flood Team Wie with exemption offers and clamor for her acceptance. Why sponsors have anted up in the millions of dollars.

Well, quadruple the influence of Wie on the LPGA side. With Annika Sorenstam away skiing in Montana according to the video clips on The Golf Channel there was an unmistakeable star gap last week. No absence of good golf or drama, to be sure, but a charisma void that, try as they might, the young guns have yet to fill. Bless their exuberance, their wondrous abilities and potential for greatness. But Wie just makes the package. Especially in Hawai'i.

Never mind that the LPGA season officially started a week ago on the North Shore with the SBS Open at Turtle Bay and a three-player sudden death playoff. With Wie away in class at Punahou School and practicing at the Ko Olina course that is the site of today's Fields Open there was something missing. OK, because there was no Wie, a lot was missing.

You felt it on the Palmer course where the galleries, barely 20 people to watch the leaders tee off on Saturday, were much more sparse than a year earlier when Wie's pied piper presence buoyed the event as attested to by the lineup of cars along Kamehameha Highway.

"Obviously she brings a crowd and that's great for the Tour every time she plays and I hope one day she'll play a lot more," said Morgan Pressel, her designated rival-apparent, yesterday.

Pressel's comments came 90 minutes after Wie's interview, when the interview tent was reduced to barely a quorum. For Wie had left the tent and taken the show with her for the day.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.