Wilson adjusts to life in PGA Tour's limbo Hole in One
Pro tour players from Hawaii
U.S. Open entries due on Wednesday
By Bill Kwon
It was good that Dean Wilson played in the Mid-Pacific Open. But the feeling probably wasn't mutual.
Oh, he was glad to be back home to see the family and get in some golf for a change. His parents, brother, uncle, auntie and niece were all at the Mid-Pacific Country Club course in Lanikai, following the Kāne'ohe native, who has played longer on the PGA Tour than any golfer from Hawai'i. Even Wilson's close friend, Dr. Carl Ho, caddied for him.
But Wilson wished he were playing somewhere else — like the Verizon Heritage, last week's PGA Tour event at Hilton Head Island, S.C. No such luck because the 40-year-old Wilson is in the PGA Tour's limbo land, having lost his exempt status after finishing out of the top-125 money list last year.
It's especially difficult at this early stage of the PGA season to get into tournaments because of his low-priority status. Even as a past champion, you're at the back of the line.
"With my status, I just get into tournaments a lot of guys don't play. It's always wait and see," said Wilson. "Yeah, it's frustrating. You can't make a schedule. But that's where I put myself. I've just got to find places to play. Play some Nationwide, but I just haven't got motivated to do that. So that's why I'm here. See the family and play some golf."
So far Wilson has played in only three PGA events this year: the Sony Open in Hawai'i in January, thanks to a sponsor's exemption, the only one he has received so far this year; the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun, Mexico, in February; and the Puerto Rico Open in March. He only got into the latter two because they were opposite World Golf Championship events. Playing once a month isn't conducive to success, although Wilson has made the cut in two events to earn $41,690.
"This year is not too fun because I watch the Tour and see all my friends and the courses and I want to be out there. But there's nothing I can do about it. It gets a little frustrating," he said.
Wilson decided to play the Mid-Pac Open a few weeks ago. "My uncle Mike Okihiro is a member here and he asked me if I wanted to play," Wilson said after Sunday's final round when he finished second to Maui's Sam Cyr, who won his first professional event. "I saw it (the Mid-Pac Open) was opposite Hilton Head and I knew I didn't have a chance to get into that. So I decided to come home."
Now it's back to Las Vegas where he resides to work on his game.
"I don't know when I'll play next," said Wilson, who didn't bother to think about this week's PGA event, the Zurich Classic in New Orleans where he was something like the 11th alternate. "I have tournaments I have an idea I'll get into: John Deere, Reno (Tahoe Open), maybe the Valero Texas Open. But it's just hard to say."
He's still writing letters requesting sponsor's exemptions, but isn't hanging around by the mail box. "They only have three or four exemptions every week and it seems like they're giving them to the same guys, John Daly, Steve Elkington, and I don't have a record that comes close to those guys. So I don't expect to get into those that they do," said Wilson, whose lone PGA Tour victory was the 2006 International. He never even had an opportunity to defend his title as that tournament was dropped from the tour schedule the following year. It also wiped out what was a 10-year exemption for that event as past champion.
So times are hard for limited-status players like Wilson. "(Even) guys from tour school aren't getting in as many events as they used to five, six years ago," he said. "So my category is definitely cut in half; we get in about half as many events as we did five years ago. That makes it hard."
So coming home and getting in four rounds of competitive golf under tough conditions worked out fine, according to Wilson. "This definitely helps. I treat everything the same. When I'm in contention at a PGA Tour event or Mid-Pac Open it's the same. I'm working as hard as I can."
It's only the second time that Wilson has played in the Mid-Pac Open, the state's only 72-hole major championship. He was runner-up that time, too, in 1994 when Deron Doi won.
Parker McLachlin, the other local golfer on the PGA Tour, might also face what Wilson is now going through if he can't overcome a 2010 start that hasn't been worth writing home about as yet. Playing in the second and final year of an exemption for winning the 2008 Legends Reno-Tahoe Open, the Punahou School alum has earned even less money ($38,211) than Wilson in missing four cuts in seven PGA starts.
Bill Kwon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org