Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Teen phenom rallies for Open bid
By Mike Branom
The Associated Press
HEATHROW, Fla. - Credit the impatience of youth for one of golf's newest phenoms landing a berth in the U.S. Women's Open.
Thirteen-year-old Michelle Wie birdied the first hole of a playoff at a sectional qualifying event on Monday, giving her one of the last bids to the upcoming major tournament.
She struggled early at the Country Club of Heathrow, north of Orlando, with three straight bogeys in her first six holes, but rallied with an even-par final round to reach the playoff.
"As she teed up, she said 'Let's make birdie so we can get out of here,"' said her father and caddie, B.J. Wie, a University of Hawaii professor. "So, she made a birdie."
The U.S. Women's Open will be played at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore., on July 3-6.
Also winning a berth in the playoff was 15-year-old Morgan Pressel.
Wie and Pressel, part of golf's growing wave of talented tyros, were tied with Elisabeth Esteril with 5-over 147s after the 36-hole qualifier.
The three began the playoff with solid drives on a 369-yard par-4, an uphill dogleg left. Wie stuck a 6-iron from 160 yards within 4 feet of the pin.
"I didn't know I hit it that well," said Wie, who had unsuccessfully tried twice before to qualify for the Open. "I was just hoping to get it on the green, two-putt and, if someone missed or makes a mistake, then, oh well. But I hit it better than I expected."
Esteril hit into a sand trap before Pressel knocked the ball into the fringe. Esteril couldn't make the sand save and Pressel two-putted for par, setting up Wie's putt as the clincher.
Wie said she entered the qualifier in Florida because it is close to her coach Gary Gilchrist, who works at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton.
"I had a feeling I was going to (qualify) because I make everything on my third try," Wie said. "I got to the Open on my third try, I got to the U.S. Juniors on my third try, I got to the U.S. Amateur on my third try."
This will be the second major for Wie. At the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March, she shot a 6-under 66 to get into the final group Sunday before finishing ninth.
"She can win (the Open)," B.J. Wie said.
Pressel, two years ago the youngest player to ever qualify for the Open, was looking forward to Wie's presence at the major.
"It's a good thing. That takes a lot of pressure off my back," she said.
The Open will be just one highlight of what promises to be a busy summer for Wie, nicknamed "The Big Wiesy." She's already agreed to compete against the men in the Boise Open, a tournament on the PGA Tour's developmental circuit, and the Canadian Tour's Bay Mills Open Players' Championship. There also will be some appearances on the LPGA Tour.
Despite Wie's gender and precocious age, her drives approach 300 yards - but it was a poor short game that nearly doomed her in the qualifier.
On the par-3 4th, her tee shot missed the green and she pushed her par putt right. The next hole saw her miss a 3-foot putt for par and a 2-footer for par on No. 6 also missed. She later double-bogeyed No. 11 and waited until the final hole to collect her first birdie and finish at 5-over.
"I was pretty worried after my 76 because I wasn't hitting as well as I wanted to," Wie said.
Wie's poor hitting, according to her father, could be blamed on her failure to compensate for the damp grounds caused by a morning shower.
"First round, her club selection was off - mostly under-club," B.J Wie said. "She was lacking experience. She didn't realize that when you hit the ball in wet conditions, you lose about 10 yards.
"She didn't believe that; now, she believes that."
The qualifier gave a glimpse into the future, as four of the six players to receive Open bids are teenagers.
"It's really great," said Wie, who turns 14 in October, "because I'm not that weird anymore."
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