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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wie upstages Seo's victory

Honolulu Advertiser Special: Golf page

By Bill Kwon

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Michelle Wie was all smiles at the Kraft Nabisco Pro-Am.

CHRIS CARLSON | Associated Press

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hee Kyung Seo holds the LPGA Kia Classic trophy.

DENIS POROY | Associated Press

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Greg Nichols

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"Obviously, she didn't gain any advantage. The officials could have easily, easily, called it the other way."

Greg Nichols | Ko Olina's director of golf on Michelle Wie's two-stroke penalty ruling.

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Say it isn't so, Michelle.

Say, isn't that Seo?

Both Michelle Wie and Hee Kyung Seo (pronounced Soh) played prominent roles in the Kia Classic, the LPGA's first full-field event of the year.

Seo, the 2009 Korean LPGA player of the year, won by six strokes but was upstaged as the Golf Channel centered its post-tournament attention on Wie, showing her in the trailer watching replays of her costly mistake instead of the victory ceremonies at the 18th green.

By now, we all know about Wie's latest rules violation. She grounded her club while in the hazard after barely hitting her third shot out of the water at the par-5 11th hole in Sunday's final round. Violating Rule 13.4 led to a two-stroke penalty for a double-bogey 7, depriving Wie of a tie for second and an additional $90,000.

This time, it wasn't that Wie, who has had three prior mental gaffes in her young professional career, didn't know the rules. She was well aware that she had grounded her club with the ball still in the hazard.

In the rules of golf, one is permitted to touch the ground in a hazard with a hand or a club (and a sand trap is also a hazard), to prevent yourself from falling. Wie pleaded her case on that grounds, saying she had closed her eyes because of the splashing water and thought she could have lost her balance. Officials thought otherwise and Wie didn't get to enjoy a happy meal.

It was a judgment call that could have gone either way, according to Greg Nichols, Ko Olina's director of golf, who watched the whole deal or ordeal, as it turned out.

"In her defense, when she hit that shot, the water splashed up and it caused her to close her eyes. Anybody that has ever had a bare foot in a slimy water hazard has that experience of not being balanced, even though it looked like she was balanced," said Nichols. "The automatic reaction is to put the club down. Obviously, she didn't gain any advantage. The officials could have easily, easily, called it the other way. In the spirit of the game, that's what I would have called."

What I found ironically amusing in also watching the entire proceedings was Wie signing her scorecard in the trailer after looking at the replays and not at the scorer's tent. She had to sign her card after determining that her score at the hole in question was 7 not 5 after a great up and down to save what she thought was par. Remember when she was DQ'd in the 2008 State Farm Classic for leaving the scoring tent without signing her card? She went back to do it but it was too late and got DQ'd for violating Rule 6.6b. At least, this time, she wasn't disqualified.

That's the thing about game of golf. There are so many rules that you can keep on making different kinds of mistakes. I tell people I never make the same mistake twice (other than maybe hitting the wrong ball every now and then). Trouble is, I don't have to because there are so many mistakes to be made in life and in golf. "It's the nature of the game that we're even having this conversation," Nichols said.

Wie's latest penalty was costly but it wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome because no one was going to overtake Seo. Wie, though, gave it a try and that's the positive she can take from her latest negative experience. Six strokes back at the start of the day, Wie had some serious catching up to do, such as trying to go for the par-5 11th in two instead of playing it safe.

Who knows? Wie and Seo might be in the spotlight again this week in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA's first major of the year, starting today at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. Calif.

Yes, it's the same Seo who was one of the 27 golfers from South Korea who spent two months at Ko Olina training for the upcoming season.

When we talked to Seo two months ago, she was ranked 40th in the Rolex Rankings. Thanks to her victory in the Kia Classic, she's now No. 17. Back then, Seo was looking forward to playing in the Kraft Nabisco as the KLPGA's leading money winner. She later got a sponsor's exemption from Kia and made the most of it. She had planned on playing the KLPGA Tour full-time for another year, but now has earned the option of accepting LPGA membership for the rest of 2010 or for next year with her victory.

Seo, who won six times on the KLPGA Tour last year, hasn't decided as yet about coming to America. With that many tournaments to defend, she might continue on the Korean tour because of her many commitments.

When here, the 23-year-old Seo said she enjoyed her stay in Hawai'i and wanted to play in the U.S. "as soon as possible."

You can't get any sooner than right now.

Bill Kwon can be reached at billkwonrhs@aol.com