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

All Wie, all the way, as fans fill the fairways

 •  Wie shines, even in defeat

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

SUMMIT, N.J. Hawai'i's Michelle Wie performed in a theater of the golf absurd yesterday. No one involved in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Canoe Brook Country Club could find a comparison to do it justice.

Wie, the first woman to get through local qualifying, inspired a following that greeted her for practice early in the morning and mushroomed as the day went on. Somehow, her threesome managed to make 150 grown men in the field disappear, with more than 90 percent of the crowd focused on Wie's group and rarely more than two or three with any other.

The crowd was estimated at up to 6,000 and stood seven and eight deep at some points behind Wie. All this came on a course that was not roped off at all in the morning and only had the bare minimum later. Spectators beat the players to the tee and walked freely across fairways. Men in suits sprinted for position across the brook that cuts all through Canoe Brook.

Wie was followed by two armed bodyguards. The large flat-screen TV in the hastily assembled media room showed one thing only before scores were available: Michelle Wie's tee time.

Little girls were everywhere, many wearing "We Love Wie" buttons by the end of the day and keeping personal scorecards. A sixth- and an eighth-grade class from a nearby school were allowed to use the qualifier as a "field trip."

The best comparison many could make was to Tiger Woods' rowdy crowds and the devoted following Arnold Palmer used to inspire. But not at a U.S. Open sectional qualifier. Those are usually reserved for family and friends.

"I couldn't believe this many people would come to a qualifying," Wie said. "I was very surprised that this many people came but I was also, I guess, flattered and moved at how many people supported me."

The crowd, basically left to its own devices, was remarkably well behaved.

No idiots yelled "You the Man" at Wie. In stark contrast, one of the first comments was a sincere "Hey, she's the best-looking player out here, ain't she?"

The 16-year-old's looks also weren't missed by the Minutemen golf team from nearby Elizabeth High School. The seven players resembled a small version of the United Nations, but the diverse faces all wore long pants and white polo shirts to their first live golf tournament.

They jockeyed for position as close as possible to Wie, then checked it all out. "Muy bien (very fine)," was the final verdict.

"I just like watching her in general, her swing and her," said senior Richard Tabor. "I've learned a lot about control. It's not how hard you swing. When she hits it, she swings so easy, in front of all these people."

Another guy, wearing a Hawai'i T-shirt and Boston Red Sox baseball cap, was hooked on Wie because of her devotion to the game. On his vacation, he played at Olomana Golf Links because he had heard that's where she started.

On the first tee, he saw Wie practicing 100-yard approach shots. When he came to the 18th some four hours later, she was still hitting approach shots.

Yesterday, all that time looked like it could pay off with history. After 30 holes, she was 2-under par and two birdies from a playoff for a chance become the first woman in the U.S. Open.

"She might freaking do this," said one writer for a national golf magazine, holding his head in shock.

Instead, Wie played the final six holes in 3-over and finished five out of the playoff. Then promised she would be back.

"Most definitely," she said without hesitation. "I don't see any point in quitting."

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.