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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 29, 2006

GOLF REPORT
Hawai'i has long history at U.S. Women's Open

 •  Kailua's Dwyer gets her shot on 'Big Break'
 •  Golf notices
 •  Holes in one

By Bill Kwon

Pung

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Planos

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Rittenhouse

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Wie

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Kono

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Kim

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Kaneko

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The U.S. Women's Open scheduled to begin today at the Newport Country Club in Rhode Island has drawn the attention of local golf fans ever since Jackie Pung became the first golfer from Hawai'i to play in the prestigious major in 1953, losing in a playoff to Betsy Rawls.

And who can forget the heartbreak when Pung had it won at Winged Foot in 1957, only to learn she was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Over the years, Hawai'i has been represented in the U.S. Women's Open by Pung, a total of 12 times; Lenore (Muraoka) Rittenhouse (10), Lori (Castillo) Planos (4), Pam Kometani (3), Marga Stubblefield (3), Brenda Rego (2) and Cristel Tomori (1). There is also LPGA veteran Cindy Rarick, a former University of Hawai'i golfer, Jeannette Kerr, who attended Roosevelt High School, and Susie Berning, a three-time champion who was a long-time resident here.

The Women's Open drew even more local attention three years ago with Michelle Wie's first showing as a 12-year-old.

Wie is back for her fourth straight appearance in the event. But this year, she's joined by three other high school standouts Stephanie Kono, Ayaka Kaneko and 14-year-old Kimberly Kim, who lost in the finals of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links championship last week.

"We've always had a bunch of them playing (in the event). But not this many," said local pro Ron Castillo Sr. "The depth of the kids we have in our area is awesome."

Planos, who won back-to-back WAPL championships in 1979-80, goes even further than her father: "It's totally awesome. It's incredible."

She points out that even the USGA is beginning to recognize the depth of talented young women golfers in the Islands.

Despite having only 13 players entered in the sectional qualifying for the U.S. Women's Amateur on Wednesday at the Waikoloa Beach Golf Course on the Big Island, the USGA is giving Hawai'i two spots, according to Planos.

That would mean Hawai'i will be represented by at least five players in this year's 106th U.S. Women's Amateur at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore., because Kono, Kim and Kaneko received exemptions for playing in the U.S. Women's Open.

Winning the U.S. Girls' Junior in 1978 gave Planos an exemption to play in the first of her four U.S. Women's Opens the following year at the Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn.

Though she missed the cut each time, playing in the Women's Open, one of the LPGA's four majors, was quite an unforgettable experience, according to Planos.

"No one tried to qualify for it because it (the sectional qualifying) was on the Mainland. It took a lot of money to do that," said Planos, who received exemptions to the biggest women's event because of her USGA play.

Unfortunately, the days of the local sectional qualifying for the Women's Open appear to be numbered, according to Mary Bea Porter-King, a USGA committee member who fought hard for Hawai'i to host the open sectional qualifying the past three years.

"It looks like the last one, too bad. We just didn't have the numbers," said Porter-King about this year's sectional qualifying for the Women's Open that drew only 16 entries.

Kono got the one spot, while Kim and Kaneko made it through local and sectional qualifiers on the Mainland.

Although a member of the LPGA Tour for 22 years, Rittenhouse had to qualify for nine of her 10 appearances in the U.S. Women's Open. Her one exemption came at the 1983 Women's Open after she won her only LPGA event, the United Virginia Bank Classic, that May.

"I don't know if I ever tried to qualify as an amateur," Rittenhouse said in a phone interview from her home in Whispering Pines, N.C., five miles from Pine Needles, site of next year's U.S. Women's Open.

Rittenhouse recalls some of her open experiences. One came at the 1993 U.S. Women's Open at the Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind.

"I walked and carried my own bag. And made the cut, too," Rittenhouse said. "I was the first person to do that."

She remembers the caddie master getting huffy because no one came by to pick up the caddie bib with her name on it.

"You want me to wear it while I'm playing?" she asked.

"I had a lot of offers from the gallery. 'Hey, I'll pay you to carry your bag,' some guy said," said Rittenhouse, 50, who still plays in some senior LPGA events.

This week, though, it's all about the Now Generation, especially for the Hawai'i foursome in the U.S. Women's Open.