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

Wie's Open door closes

 •  Wie shines, even in defeat

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Michelle Wie reacts to missing a short putt for par on No. 5 on the North Course, the second of three bogeys that took her out of contention at the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying.

TYSON TRISH | The (N.J.) Daily Record

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"I'd like to motivate people to do what they want to do and not just do what other people do, the normal thing," Michelle Wie says.

MEL EVANS | Associated Press

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SUMMIT, N.J. For 30 holes yesterday, Michelle Wie transformed a U.S. Open sectional qualifier into the fifth major and transfixed the golf world.

When it was over, 10 hours after it started at Canoe Brook Country Club, she was left disappointed and groping for an explanation.

Not an explanation of why her rounds of 68-75, good for a 1-over-par total at the club's South (par-70) and North (par-72) courses, were five shots short of giving her an opportunity to become the first female to play the U.S. Open.

The Punahou School senior-to-be instead searched for the best way to describe how a 16-year-old girl feels when her best is not good enough.

"I played my hardest out there. I concentrated to the end," Wie said. "I felt I played my hardest and this is what happened."

Simple as that. Wie moves on today, greeting the media at the McDonald's LPGA Championship a few hours south in Maryland.

A year ago, she was second in the LPGA's second major of the year.

Tonight she will throw out the first pitch at Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles.

The birdies that consistently got away in her first round yesterday at the South Course will be forgotten. The three-putts on her 31st and 32nd holes, which led to bogeys and blew away any chance she had of qualifying, will be but a roll of the eyes. Prodigies are apparently as resilient as they are charismatic, and all eyes were on Wie yesterday.

A qualifier that has never drawn 1,000 spectators or more than a dozen media maxed out on both this time around. A gallery of 1,500 greeted Wie on her first tee at 8:30 a.m. By the time she made the turn at 11 a.m., the course had closed its gates because the gathering was so large and concentrated around Wie it was dangerous to allow more in.

As spectators left during the day, more were allowed inside, causing a line to form at the entrance. An official estimated 6,000 came to see the sectional and nearly 300 media covered it. A U.S. Open sectional qualifier where Brett Quigley (67-63) was crowned medalist celebrated Wie's audacious talent and ambition all day long.

For most of the long day, she celebrated with the masses. Wie yanked her opening drive into the muddy rough, but salvaged par with a 10-foot putt.

She missed birdie putts from inside 10 feet on the next three holes, hitting approach shots increasingly closer and growing more befuddled by each miss.

"If she ever gets her putting together, it's lights out," someone in the crowd said.

Wie was precise with every club but her putter for most of the day. She missed a half dozen birdie putts inside 12 feet in her first round, but was never in trouble after the first hole. She birdied the par-5 sixth, hitting her second shot into the back fringe and sending an eagle putt within two feet.

Then, just as it looked as if her putter would be the death of her historical charge early, golf showed its weird side. Wie chipped in for birdie from 60 feet on the 18th to erase much of her frustration and inspire a huge roar from her crowd. She punched her left fist, grinned in disbelief and high-fived her caddie.

"I was looking at my lie and there was like mushrooms all around it," Wie said. "You know you're in deep trouble when there's mushrooms all around your ball. Hacking through the rough I'm going, 'Get your bogey and get out of here.' It was a really tough lie.

"I picked my spot where I wanted to land it and I actually did land it on the spot where I wanted to. Very fortunately the ball landed in the hole. That doesn't usually happen to me so I was very surprised and happy."

The birdie left her with a share of eighth at the lunch break, but the pause hurt her cause. Wie yanked her opening drive again and this time could not save par, suffering her first bogey. She parred on, sinking a seven-footer with 19 cameras focused on her to save par at her seventh hole of the afternoon (No. 16).

With much of the gallery quietly urging her to "make ONE," she finally did.

Wie birdied the next hole from 10 feet to get back to 2-under. She parred the next four, then stumbled. Wie missed par putts inside three feet at Nos. 4 and 5.

Both times she charged the initial putt, realizing she needed birdies to be on the right side of the bubble. For the first time all day, she could not convert coming back. After the second miss, Wie walked away from her ball, head down in disbelief.

"I felt like I played great actually," Wie said. "It's not like I hit really bad shots, not like I hit really bad putts. It just didn't work out. Those two short putts, I hit them right where I wanted to but they just didn't fall in. What can you do about that? It really was not meant to be. ... I guess the ball was afraid of heights or something. It didn't want to fall in the hole."

When she bogeyed the next hole with three bad swings probably her worst of the day all the air went out of the crowd and this unique Open qualifier.

Wie had already made history by becoming the first female to advance to a sectional, winning medalist honors at Hawai'i's local qualifier. For now, that's as far as her U.S. Open history will take her. Eighteen players advanced out of yesterday's qualifier, with 17 shooting 5-under or better and Brad Fritsch (4-under 138) earning the last spot in a five-way playoff.

Wie's father, BJ, said her showing proved a female could one day qualify for the U.S. Open.

"Finally, my dad said something right," Wie joked. "I'm not really here to prove that women can actually play. I'd like to motivate people to do what they want to do and not just do what other people do, the normal thing. I hope people can break out of the normal thing."

Among the 77 men Wie beat yesterday were playing partners David Gossett (72-74) and Rick Hartmann (72-74). Gossett, a PGA Tour player and 1999 U.S. Amateur champion, four- and three-putted from inside five feet to spoil his chances, but still had kind things to say about Wie. The two first met in a First Hawaiian Pro-Junior Challenge a few years ago.

"She handles herself great," Gossett said. "She is a credit to the game of golf. I respect what she is trying to do. ... She had a totally legitimate shot at this."

Hartmann, one of the finest club pros in the finest section of club pros in the country, took it a step further.

"After the front nine it definitely looked like she had a chance of making it, she was playing really well," Hartmann said. "That would have been really exciting. How good would that have been for the game of golf? That's the bottom line at the end of the day. It's good for golf. She's definitely competitive. She's very, very good. And she's only bloody 16."

NOTES

Former Hawaiian Open champion Paul Stankowski withdrew from the qualifier along with Brett Geiberger, Harrison Frazar and Brian Owens. Briny Baird withdrew after an opening-round 71.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.