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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Wie shines, even in defeat

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 • Special report: Michelle Wie
 •  Wie's Open door closes
 •  15-year-old wins Kaua'i qualifier for Open berth
 •  All Wie, all the way, as fans fill the fairways
 •  Wie's local fans are undaunted
 •  Unwavering Wie plans for next year
 •  I've seen many things, but nothing like Wie

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Michelle Wie teed off amid a huge crowd during yesterday's U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying Round in Summit, N.J. The teen golf phenom from Honolulu failed in her effort to become the first female golfer to qualify for the event. To her fans, it didn't matter.

TYSON TRISH | Daily Record (N.J.)

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Wie reacts to a fairway shot at the 13th hole. About 6,000 watched her live; others tracked her progress hole-by-hole via Web sites.

MEL EVANS | Associated Press

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Spectators viewed Wie in action on a day that USGA spokesman Marty Parkes described as "not your typical U.S. Open sectional qualifier."

MEL EVANS | Associated Press

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Sports marketing experts describe Wie as "a natural who comes across as a real teenager." A sense of that persona came across yesterday as the Honolulu girl reacted to a shot at the 12th tee.

MEL EVANS | Associated Press

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For 10 hours yesterday, on a gorgeous day in New Jersey, the worlds of golf, marketing and celebrity stopped to stare at the phenom that is 16-year-old Michelle Wie.

This was the scene surrounding the Canoe Brook Country Club's North and South courses in Summit, N.J., yesterday as Wie attempted what no woman has accomplished to become the first female golfer to qualify for the U.S. Open:

  • Ten times the usual number of spectators about 6,000 craned to get a glimpse of Wie's run at history, as she was encircled by an improvised, mobile rope line and plenty of security that followed her throughout the North and South courses.

  • Officials were forced to turn away fans. Hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators had to wait for someone to leave before officials would let anyone else enter.

  • More than 200 reporters signed up to cover the event. Normally the qualifier attracts about five or six local reporters.

  • ESPN broke into its morning programming yesterday with live Wie updates.

  • The U.S. Golf Association used only one photo of Wie on its Web site to tout the qualifying rounds. The site also had a special link to Wie's scorecard, updated after each hole. The other players' scores were updated only after nine holes.

  • Other Web sites, such as golfweb.com, created special blogs to track Wie's progress hole by hole. "Wie arrives about 7:20 a.m. and the car is immediately surrounded by photographers," pgatour.com contributor Brett Avery wrote in his hole-by-hole blog. "Already hundreds of spectators mill around the practice tee, awaiting her arrival. A few minutes later (PGA Tour pro) Billy Andrade pulls into a nearby parking spot and he is approached by only one person."

    At the end of the day, USGA spokesman Marty Parkes summed up the event as "certainly not your typical U.S. Open sectional qualifier. Today was an unprecedented day in history."

    For weeks, officials from the USGA and the local Metropolitan Golf Association have been meeting over how to contain Michelle Mania such as finding parking for the overflow crowd at The Mall at Short Hills nearby and all of the extra security and staff to deal with credentials and crowds, said Kevin O'Connor, who oversees the USGA's Web site.

    "We had to discuss all of the things that normally don't come up in a sectional qualifier," O'Connor said. "Michelle Wie is the reason this is so different. I can't remember another time when we had this kind of interest for a player in sectional qualifying."

    Part of the crush came from the opportunity to see a potential golf legend in the making all for free. And Wie had already made history, as the first female to win a qualifier to advance to the sectional.

    Wie satisfied her fans' expectations until she bogeyed three consecutive holes near the end and finished with a 3-over-par 75 in the second round. Wie, competing against 152 men for 18 spots at the U.S. Open, finished the 36 holes with a 1-over-par 143. The Open will be held at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., later this month.

    Even in defeat, Wie commands celebrity status. The Associated Press quoted her parents as saying that she will throw out the first pitch at Camden Yards today when the Baltimore Orioles play Toronto.


    David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute, called the image and persona of the Punahou teenager nothing short of "magical."

    There's Wie's 6-foot-1 height. Her Korean-American looks that generate worldwide ethnic appeal. Wie's adoring audience that spans young girls to grandparents.

    And, of course, Wie has flashed a delightful, teenage perspective on the world at large that has captivated viewers from "60 Minutes" to "Late Night With David Letterman."

    "There are just some celebrities that seem to transcend their sports," said Lynn Kahle, professor of marketing at the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "She's just a natural who comes across as a real teenager. Sometimes these people who are put out as prodigies come across as overly manufactured and overly controlled. With Michelle Wie, it's not a phony grace and poise. At this point, Michelle Wie is clearly a person of substance, as well as a great golfer. She's good looking. She's charming. She has all of the attributes you would want a good celebrity to have."

    Jon Spoelstra, the author of the best-selling sports marketing book "Marketing Outrageously," said Wie has that intangible something that will draw thousands of fans on a work day.

    "It's difficult to describe charisma, but you know it when you see it," Spoelstra said. "There's just sort of that halo that follows Michelle around and I can't explain that. But if you could bottle it, you could probably be worth more than Bill Gates."

    From a marketing standpoint, Carter said, "she really hasn't made any mistakes. She hasn't compromised her reputation. In an era of athletes compromising their personal brand and the corporations they endorse, she has had no noticeable hiccups and that has made her an ongoing positive story, wrapped around the fact that her golf game is progressing. That puts her in very rare company."


    Certainly, much of the interest in Wie came from her attempt at history and from ordinary people's desire to see a future star in the making, Carter said.

    Many of her fans, Carter expects, hope to be able to one day say that they saw "the greatest woman golfer of all time" as she started her career.

    "Anticipating the upside potential for her is incredible," Carter said. "It's almost unimaginable how good she could become."

    But how long can Wie continue to hold the public's interest without winning?

    "She's set high expectations for people," said Michael Kamins, an associate professor at the Marshall School of Business at USC, who specializes in celebrity advertising. "But there's a limit to always being a bridesmaid. There's going to come a point soon where people will say, 'She disappoints me. I don't want to root for her because she frustrates me.' I would venture to say that point will come within the next year or two. She's just going to have to deliver."

    If all goes well, Wie is just starting a career that could last for decades, Carter said.

    "But this is America," Carter said. "You can only lose with grace for so long. At some point, you've got to win. But she still has a fair amount of room ahead of her."

    Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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