A Banner Year for Wilson Hawaiians

By Associated PressJanuary 5, 2007, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)KAPALUA, Hawaii -- The cheer was so loud you would have thought Tiger Woods was on the first tee.
The most popular player at Kapalua for the Mercedes-Benz Championship is a 37-year-old who once toiled in Japan, struggled to keep his PGA TOUR card the last couple of years and earned fleeting fame for playing with a woman. Even his breakthrough victory last year at the International was not terribly popular because he beat Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman in a playoff.
In these parts, though, Dean Wilson is a star.
He is the first player from Hawaii to play in the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship since it moved to Kapalua in 1999.
'I'm pretty excited, being that this tournament is in Hawaii,' Wilson said. 'It's the first tournament of the year, my family is coming over to watch me. Everyone is happy to have a Hawaii guy in the field.'
His presence at Kapalua illustrates a banner year for golf in Hawaii.
The Honolulu Advertiser published on New Year's Day its top-10 sports stories for 2006, and golf occupied half the list.
Topping the chart was record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan and the Hawaii football team, following by the University of Hawaii volleyball team reaching the regional final (volleyball is huge in these parts). The top golfer on the list was Kimberly Kim, the 14-year-old who became the youngest champion of the U.S. Women's Amateur.
Wilson was fourth.
'I'm still a second-rate golfer,' Wilson said with a laugh. 'But hey, I'm getting better. I'm moving up the list.'
At least he finished ahead of Michelle Wie, who was fifth.
That has been a running joke for Wilson the last several years, especially with all the hype over Wie at the Sony Open. Wilson has been Hawaii's best player for a decade -- he was a six-time winner on the Japan PGA Tour -- but he never could get an exemption to his hometown tournament.
Wilson qualified for the U.S. Open, but he again was overshadowed by a teenager from Hawaii, 15-year-old Tadd Fujikawa. The freshman at Moanalua High became the youngest player since 1941 to qualify for the U.S. Open. He finished No. 6 on the Advertiser list.
The other golfer on the list (No. 9) was Casey Watabu, who beat Anthony Kim to win the U.S. Public Links Amateur. And to top off the year, Parker McLachlin earned his PGA TOUR card at Q-school. That got honorable mention.
'It's been the best summer ever for Hawaii,' Wilson said.
The success of golf on the islands will hit home later this year.
The last player from Hawaii to compete in the Masters was Guy Yamamoto in 1995, from winning the Public Links. This year, Hawaii will have two players at Augusta National for the first time -- Wilson, from finishing 22nd on the PGA TOUR money list, and Watabu from his victory in the Public Links.
Wilson still remembers what a big deal it was for David Ishii to play in the 1990 Masters, having won the Hawaiian Open that year.
'It's always good to know someone and have them set an example and show that it's possible,' Wilson said. 'Ishii did that in '90. And more recently for me was Mike Weir, watching his success as a college teammate (they played together at BYU).'
Ishii shot 74-79 and Yamamoto went 84-77. Both missed the cut.
In some respects, Kapalua is like Augusta National for Wilson.
He has watched the Mercedes-Benz Championship every year since it moved to Maui and feels like he knows every hole. And when he played the course for the first time, he was amazed at the elevation changes, the size and the speed of the greens.
'TV doesn't do it justice,' he said, a remark often heard by players at the Masters for the first time.
It was stunning to hear that a guy who was born and raised in Hawaii and grew up playing golf had never set foot on the Plantation course until a practice round last week.
'Growing up here, everyone thinks I've played every course,' Wilson said. 'I was a little junior golfer who couldn't afford to be on a resort course, and had no reason to be on one unless there was a junior tournament.'
He grew up in Kaneohe, on the windward side of Oahu, and beat the ball around public courses such as Pali.
'I came over here once to buy a hat,' Wilson said. 'That was about it.'
Wilson didn't get off to a great start. He took double bogey after hitting into the knee-high native grasses on No. 3, and he took another double bogey on the 15th when he three-putted from 15 feet, which is easy to do in 30 mph wind. He wound up with an 80 on Thursday, a score that is not unusual the first tournament of the year in severe conditions.
His gallery was among the largest, and the cheer when he was introduced on the first tee made it sound like Sunday.
Big crowds are not the norm for Wilson, except when he got into a playoff with Lehman at the International, beating him on the first extra hole. And there were those two rounds at Colonial in 2003, when he was paired with Annika Sorenstam as she became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour.
That is more a footnote for Wilson now, who has moved on to bigger things.
And the rest of Hawaii is following.

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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”