Wies Journey to Superstardom Began with a Victory
Not a bad first step on the path to superstardom.
The 6-foot prodigy takes the next step in her unprecedented journey Wednesday, six days before turning 16. That's when she turns professional and becomes the richest female golfer in the world with multimillion dollar endorsements.
At age 11, Wie became the youngest winner of the Jennie K. Wilson Invitational, beating defending champion Bobbi Kokx by nine strokes.
``I still joke that I think I could've taken her when she was 9,'' said Kokx, a former player and coach at the University of Hawaii. ``If you're going to come second to someone, why not Michelle Wie?''
Wie's golf instructor at the time, Casey Nakama, said he realized Wie's potential during that tournament.
``That's when we knew there was going to be something special here, at 11 years old,'' he said.
Special may be an understatement.
In just four years, Wie has already left her mark on the sport, proving she can play with the best in the world -- regardless of her age and gender.
``I'm dumbfounded by how she's taken the golf world,'' Nakama said.
A press conference is scheduled for 8 a.m. HST from the Kahala Mandarin Oriental resort, a short drive away from Wie's home and Punahou School, where she will attend classes after the announcement.
``When I watch this thing on TV, absolutely, I'll feel lucky we were part of this whole thing,'' Nakama said.
He remembers when a well-mannered 9-year-old who had ambitions of becoming a tournament player enrolled at his school at Olomana Golf Links.
``She was just an average junior,'' Nakama said. ``She was tall for her age, but she didn't have extraordinary ability at that time.''
That soon changed.
Wie devoted most of her free time to practicing -- at least three hours a day after school and seven to eight hours every weekend.
``I've had a lot of juniors that had similar abilities, but none of them had the same drive as she did. I think that's the difference,'' Nakama said.
With her big, smooth, effortless swing, Wie was quickly outdriving older girls, not to mention many men. After a couple years, Nakama introduced punch shots into the wind, hooks and fades.
``Normally, I have girls that can do that in high school and college -- but not at 11 or 12 years old,'' he said.
There was also another startling moment for Nakama at the 2002 Takefuji Classic, where 12-year-old Wie became the youngest player to earn a spot in an LPGA Tour event through a qualifier.
Wie was on the driving range comparing her shots, which were measuring up with the pros -- including Annika Sorenstam's. ``At that point, I knew it was just a matter of experience,'' he said.
The Takefuji was the first of many pro events to come for Wie. She has played 24 times on the LPGA Tour, and hasn't missed a cut in the last two years.
She was runner-up at the LPGA Championship to Sorenstam in June, and tied for third at the Women's British Open in July. Both are majors on the LPGA Tour.
Had she taken prize money this year, Wie would have earned $640,870, enough to be 12th on the LPGA money list in just seven tournaments.
Wie has competed five times against the men, without making a cut -- three on the PGA Tour, once on the Nationwide Tour and once on the Canadian Tour.
Kokx, who was paired with Wie on the final day of the Jennie K., said she was impressed with the youngster's power, raw talent, focus, knowledge of the game and maturity, even at 11.
``What probably surprised me the most was her composure for the three days,'' said Kokx, who has played in four local tournaments with Wie. ``It was just really exciting to see someone that good play.''
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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake
Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.
While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.
“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.
Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.<
DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi
Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.
“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”
Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).
“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.”
Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.
Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace).
“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”
Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi
What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.
Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.
McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.
He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.
McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65).
Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds.
“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder
Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.
Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.
Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:
Filling in tomorrow for Corey Pavin that WD today @cbgolfchallenge I do things like this a lot to help events and asking for sponsors exemptions here but didn't get any help.— Ken Duke (@DukePGA) January 18, 2018
Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.
Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.