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

Wie's local fans are undaunted

 •  Wie shines, even in defeat

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Despite falling short in her bid to advance in U.S. Open qualifying, 16-year-old Michelle Wie remains an inspiration. "She's doing great things for the women's game and for kids in general," said Michael Milligan, a 29-year old assistant professional at Ko Olina.

MEL EVANS | Associated Press

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Tai Lesa didn't care if Michelle Wie qualified for the PGA's U.S. Open yesterday because, he says, her participation alone is enough to motivate young women to take up golf.

Sitting on the bench behind the first tee at the Ala Wai Golf Course, the 45-year-old linguistics professor at the University of Hawai'i said all three of his young daughters took up golf after Wie became a global icon capable of captivating millions.

His eldest, 12-year-old Cassandra, said she admires the way Wie plays and enjoys watching her beating up on boys.

"I think she made golf better for women," Cassandra said as she applied sunblock to her face before playing a round with her dad.

Wie came up short yesterday in her bid to make history as the first woman to qualify for the men's U.S. Open. But those who follow her career and draw inspiration from her efforts were not discouraged or disappointed with her performance.

Many couldn't care less how she finished yesterday's round at Canoe Brook golf course in Summit, N.J.

The fact that she is doing what she's doing at her age is enough to bolster the spirits of millions, supporters say.

"She's inspired a lot of girls to pick up the game and play golf," said Casey Nakama, Wie's first coach, who runs the junior golf program at Olomana Golf Links. "All over the country she's made a big impact."

Nakama said female participation in Olomana's 200-plus member junior golf program has risen with Wie's popularity.

He said nearly 30 percent of the golfers in his junior program are girls, a ratio unheard of a few years ago.

Michael Milligan, a 29-year-old assistant professional at Ko Olina, said many of the children he teaches, boys and girls, talk about Wie constantly.

"She's doing great things for the women's game and for kids in general," he said yesterday. "I've got kids who are always saying, 'Michelle Wie did this, Michelle Wie did that.'"

Bill and Jackie Griffin, a pair of retirees waiting in the Ala Wai golf course clubhouse yesterday for their 12:51 p.m. tee time, said they enjoy watching Wie and the throngs that follow her.

"Not bad for Canoe Brook," said Bill Griffin, a retired engineer and consultant, referring to the course where Wie failed to qualify yesterday. "It's tough. I mean, it's tough. I had a horrible round in 1964."

Local golf analysts and up-and-coming junior golfers think much of the criticism leveled at Wie is typical but unwarranted.

Mark Rolfing, a golf analyst for NBC Sports and the Golf Channel, said those who claim Wie should stick to playing against her peers don't realize that she is peerless in Hawai'i and still too young to participate full-time on the LPGA tour.

What Wie is trying to accomplish as a golfer opens her up to criticism but paves the way for others hoping to transform their fields.

"She hasn't made the gender thing an issue. She's made it clear that someday she wants to be the best player in the world. She's really a pioneer in what she's doing. When you're a pioneer, people don't expect you to succeed every time. There have been pioneers who failed but were still celebrated as heroes and heroines," said Rolfing. "She's getting real close. I think she's going to win this year on the LPGA tour, and these experiences are helping."

Cyd Okino, a 12-year-old junior golfer set to play in the U.S. amateur women's public links tournament in Pueblo, Colo., this summer, said she shares Wie's drive.

"I like beating boys at golf," said Okino, a Kaimuki Middle School student who has been playing golf for six years. "She's a really, really big inspiration in Hawai'i and anywhere."

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.