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

I've seen many things, but nothing like Wie

 •  Wie shines, even in defeat

By Bill Kwon

Let's see now. I've been watching or writing about golf for more than 40 years.

I've seen Tiger Woods win the PGA Grand Slam of Golf five straight years at the Po'ipu Bay Golf Course on Kaua'i. And a sixth time there last year.

Also Tiger's victory in the 2000 Mercedes Championships at the Kapalua Plantation Course, the first of his nine PGA Tour victories that year, including three majors.

I've covered the "Great White Shark," Greg Norman, when he won for the first time on American soil at the 1983 Kapalua International.

I've interviewed Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and even received from Sam Snead an autographed copy of his book, "Slammin' Sam," when he played in a seniors' event at Kuilima.

I was overjoyed I know, there's no cheering in the press box or media center when Ted Makalena became the first Hawai'i golfer to win a PGA Tour event, the 1966 Hawaiian Open. And equally elated when another local boy, David Ishii, did it 24 years later.

I thought I had seen everything.

That is, until Michelle Wie came along.

I still remember six years ago when local pro Casey Nakama told me about a 10-year-old girl who could hit a golf ball longer than any woman in Hawai'i. And a lot of men, too.

"Nah. No way," I told him. But it was a comment too good to pass up, so I quoted him. It's the first mention of Michelle Wie in print anywhere and now who hasn't heard of the teen-age prodigy turned phenom.

Since then the young teen-ager has traveled a path no one has ever dared to take.

"There's no road map where she's going," once said Mark Rolfing, a Maui resident and NBC golf analyst.

Wie continues to break new ground and so with bated breath we all I know I wasn't the only one watched yesterday to see if she would qualify to become the first female to play in the U.S. Open championship.

She had already established a precedent by being the first female to reach a U.S. Open sectional.

To the disappointment of us all Wie didn't secure one of the 18 spots in the sectional at the Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J.

But she didn't fail. She showed that she could compete with the men. And she turned a usual nonevent like a USGA qualifying into a happening, drawing thousands of fans and 150 credentialed media.

If there's any lesson that Wie will take from yesterday's 36-hole qualifier, it's one that all golfers, no matter how accomplished, know all too well: there are days when the putts just won't drop.

People always ask me, "Why does Michelle play in men's events?"

I always tell them, "Because she can."

There's another reason, of course. She's allowed to play in only eight women's events a year. What is she to do the rest of the time?

Besides, sponsors don't pay $10 million a year to players for just winning on the LPGA Tour. Just ask Annika Sorenstam.

That is what Wie, 16, commands because of her talent, charisma and potential of greatness in golf instead of simply being content on just playing on the women's tour.

Over the years I've seen a lot of outstanding women golfers locally, Jackie Pung and Lori Castillo Planos coming immediately to mind. But Wie is already the best female golfer to come out of Hawai'i.

Even Planos, a back-to-back national women's public links champion, concurs. "No one's come along with this kind of talent. She's one in a million. She's a Picasso. I'm just a local artist."

Growing older, I'm grateful for still being around in an era of golf that started for me with Jack and Arnie and, now, ending with Tiger and Michelle, a couple of one-in-a-millions.