Meet the Big Wiesy's biggest fan ... by far
By Bill Kwon
I thought I was Michelle Wie's biggest fan.
No way, not even close.
Meet the undisputed champion of them all: Leonore Ogawa, a 59-year-old grandmother and starter at the Ala Wai Golf Course.
She boasts the most extensive collection of Michelle memorabilia, including every article about the LPGA star from Hawai'i since 2003. It would have been from the year earlier when Wie was a precocious 12-year-old already making headlines in golf, but Ogawa gave those newspaper clippings to Wie's parents, BJ and Bo. "You have more than we do," BJ told Ogawa.
"So in 2003, I started to save articles for myself, not knowing what I was getting into," said Ogawa at the Kaimukī home she grew up in, just a pitching wedge away from Ali'iolani Elementary School, which she attended. Her first Michelle scrapbook — its cover autographed by Wie — brims with Wie clippings, all meticulously sheathed in protective plastic sheets.
"At first, I started out like this (holding the volume six inches thick) ... good intentions, cutting 'em out, making 'em nice. After a while, it was so much, I didn't have the time. Now I can't even keep up with it," said Ogawa. Yes, she added the latest story about Wie's endorsement contract with McDonald's.
Ogawa's collection doesn't only include newspaper articles. For several years she subscribed to GolfWorld, Golf Week, Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf for Women, keeping those magazines mentioning Wie. "After a while, it got too much. I stopped all my magazine subscriptions now. If I know there's an article (about her) I'll just buy the magazine," Ogawa said.
"I said I would stop doing this when she won. All these years I was waiting for her to win and she finally won. What's happening, out of habit. I'm still doing it. I can't stop. I don't want to stop when I see articles (about her). She's surprised that I do all this. I'm sure she knows I'm her biggest fan."
"She crazy," says her mother, Margaret Taira, laughing.
Ogawa's collection includes every Wie article, even negative ones.
"Some people were really brutal when she was hurt and not playing well, and (about) poor decisions, her parents, everything," said Ogawa, who simply can't understand why Hawai'i people could be so against someone from Hawai'i.
"People knew I was her fan so whenever anything negative happened, they would come to me and say, 'What's wrong with YOUR girl?' My co-worker Lance (Yokooji) would say, 'Don't get her started.' What happens is, when Michelle does well, she's OUR girl. When Michelle does bad, she's YOUR girl. When she won, they said, 'Our girl did good.' "
It was at Ala Wai where Ogawa met Michelle, then an 8-year-old attending Star of the Sea, and her parents. "They would come after school, several times a week, be on the stand-by list and play. Michelle was a regular stand-by at Ala Wai. Not many people know that her roots is actually Ala Wai."
Right away, Ogawa saw that there was something special about Michelle, already tall for her age. "There was something different about her that you knew she would be exceptional. She already had that nice swing and could really hit the ball. You could see the dedication and the focus she had for the game."
Ogawa watched Wie mature and then began to follow her in earnest. What better way, she thought, than to compile a chronological record of Wie's accomplishments. Ogawa even scheduled her vacations to watch Wie play in LPGA events locally, including the SBS Open at Turtle Bay for the past five years. "The sad part is I don't get to see her because now there's no LPGA here anymore," said Ogawa, who recently bought an iPhone to follow the LPGA Tour.
She was staffing the starter's office alone the day Wie won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico, for her long-awaited first LPGA title. (She has an autographed photo of Wie holding the winning trophy). "I went crazy all by myself," she recalled.
Ogawa hurried home to tell her 91-year-old father, Baron Taira, one of those who kept asking, "When is your girl going to win?"
"Dad, dad, Michelle won. She finally won," Ogawa whispered to her father.
"He passed away the next day, knowing she won," said Michelle Wie's biggest fan.
Bill Kwon can be reached at email@example.com