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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 27, 2010

Past 10 years filled with memories

 •  Pro Tour players from Hawaii
 •  Holes in One
 •  Get golf ready at Turtle Bay
 •  Sony Open generates $1M for charity


By Bill Kwon

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Michelle Wie after winning the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational tournament for her first LPGA victory.

Advertiser library photo

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Wie won the 2003 USGA Women's Amateur Public Links Championship at age 13.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tadd Fujikawa reacts to his eagle putt on the 18th green at the 2007 Sony Open in Hawai'i at Waialae.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kimberly Kim won the 106th U.S. Women's Amateur in 2006 at the age of 14, the youngest ever to do so.

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Golf is like life, so it's not surprising that it is full of memories good and bad.

Life's too short to dwell on the latter, so let's look back at some of the memorable moments in golf that I've had the fortune to write about for The Honolulu Advertiser's Golf Page the past 10 years of Thursdays.

Not surprisingly, most of them are about Michelle Wie, the most celebrated and Twittered golfer to come out of Hawai'i.

Wie grew up before our eyes, the dominant golf headliner of the year for most of the new millennium's first decade, becoming the youngest at age 10 to qualify for a USGA event and advancing to the third round of the 2000 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links.

The following year Wie became the youngest Hawai'i State Women Golf Association's Stroke Play and Jennie K. Wilson Invitational champion, and the youngest and first female to play in the historic Mānoa Cup.

In 2003, Wie became the youngest champion, male or female, of an adult USGA event with her WAPL victory at age 13 years, 5 months a record that still stands. She also was the youngest player to make the cut in the LPGA, tying for ninth in one of its majors, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

She didn't skip a beat in 2004, falling short by one stroke to make the cut in the Sony Open in Hawai'i, a PGA Tour event. She then led USA to victory as the youngest player in Curtis Cup history and made the cut in all six of her LPGA appearances on sponsor's exemptions.

Wie turned pro just days before her 16th birthday in 2005, signing endorsement deals with Sony and Nike totaling $10 million. But who knew a DQ in her pro debut at the Samsung World Championship would portend future bumps in her path to glory in 2007 and 2008, especially after such a promising 2006 when she earned $718,343 and recorded top-5 finishes in three majors. Later in 2008 she found her way back the hard way gaining LPGA playing privileges through 2008 Q-School to earn the respect of her peers.

That led to a great 2009 when she led USA to victory in the Solheim Cup and posted her first LPGA victory in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico. It's the last time an American won an LPGA event, by the way. And Wie's earnings of $918,659 in 2009 finally became recognized as official money.

Wie, however, wasn't the only wahine making Headline 1s in local golf. Big Island native Kimberly Kim became the youngest champion 14 years, 11 months to win the 2006 U.S. Women's Amateur.

Kim, who also finished runner-up in the WAPL and represented USA in the Women's World Amateur Team Championship in South Africa that year, joined Dean Wilson to make Aug. 13, 2006, the greatest day in the history of Hawai'i golf. Hours before Kim's victory, Wilson won the International for his first PGA victory and the first by a Hawai'i golfer in a PGA event not played at Waialae Country Club. It was Hawai'i 2, the World 0, that unforgettable day, which will probably never be equaled.

Add Casey Watabu's victory in the U.S. Men's Amateur Public Links he beat a guy named Anthony Kim in the finals Tadd Fujikawa becoming the youngest player at 15 to qualify for the U.S. Open and Parker McLachlin making it through Q-School to join Wilson on the PGA Tour, one could easily rank 2006 as also the greatest year in local golf history.

For Punahou School, 2008 was the year to remember. Alex Ching won the Mānoa Cup and five other tournaments, fellow Buffanblu McLachlin won his first PGA event, Wie made it through LPGA Q-School, ninth-grader Cyd Okino led her team to the ILH and state championships and Stephanie Kono (Class of '08) became the first female to make the cut in the Mid-Pacific Open and recently earned All-America honors for the second year in a row at UCLA. Kono joins Kim on the U.S. team in the Curtis Cup next month. And, oh, Barack somebody also won something.

Finally, I can't close my decade of memories without mentioning Fujikawa, inch for inch, the best golfer in the world.

If Aug. 13, 2006, is the most unforgettable date and 2006 the most unforgettable year in local golf, clearly there's no question about this decade's most unforgettable moment on the links: Fujikawa raising his arms in triumph after sinking an eagle putt at the 18th hole before a resounding gallery at the 2007 Sony Open as the 16-year-old high school sophomore became the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut in a PGA event.

It's a moment that will forever be filed in my memory bank, along with so many others.

Thanks for the memories.

Bill Kwon can be reached at billkwonrhs@aol.com.