Annie triumphed in a USGA test that made Tigers win at Bethpage look like a walk in the park (which, technically, it was). Thurman was one of 144 women who qualified nationwide to play in the W.A.P.L. at the Sunriver golf resort in Oregon. Thirty-six holes over two days cut the field to 64 for match play. Then, two matches on Thursday and two more on Friday, just to make it to the semifinals. Saturday was a relative breather, with just the one 18-hole match to qualify for Sundays final. Then 36 holes to win the national championship.
For the two finalists ' Annie and Hwanhee Lee ' thats nine rounds of golf, under extreme pressure, in just six days. So what were those guys complaining about at Bethpage?
Thurman and Lee made a bit of history in their championship match. For the first time in the W.A.P.L.s history, the final match was scheduled for 36, not 18, holes. It was a bit anti-climatic, with Thurman cruising to a 6 and 5 victory.
Lee, another 19-year-old from Southern California, had averaged just one bogey per round during her previous matches. But the sophomore at the University of Nevada Las Vegas bogeyed five of the first 11 holes. My spirit just left my body, she said. I dont know what happened to me today.
During that same opening stretch, Thurman posted 11 consecutive pars. Annie proved that, once again, par is a very good score in a USGA Championship. Even par through 11 and five-up.
Thats all I was trying to do, Annie said. Hit the fairways, stay out of that USGA rough and make pars. The champ added, I knew that would put all the pressure on my opponent.
With apologies to the two teen-aged finalists, the true star of this championship was a pre-teen who lost to Lee in the semis. Thats right a pre-teen!
Michelle Wie, a 12-year-old from Hawaii, made it all the way to the semi-finals and this was the third time she played in the W.A.P.L. Yup, Michelle first played for this national title when she was TEN.
This lovely young lady seems to be a cant-miss star of the very near future. She stands six feet tall and could pass as a runway model. Her flowing, graceful swing is one of perfect balance and immense power. Michelle averages 290 yards off the tee. AVERAGES. During the week at Sunriver, she unleashed several drives that measured more than 320. If there is any glaring weakness that was evident at the W.A.P.L., it is Michelles putting. She often looked uncomfortable over pressure putts. But, lest we forget, shes TWELVE! I mean, how good were you at pressure putts in national competition during the summer between seventh and eighth grade?
We should get to see quite a bit more of this extremely poised young lady this summer. She and her parents plan to stay on the mainland for the next few months as Michelle plays the amateur circuit. After her eye-popping performance in Sunriver, the USGA is considering the unprecedented move of granting Wie a special exemption to play in the USGA Junior Girls. I make a point of including Girls in the title, because Michelle is certainly ready to take on all challengers from either sex.
She cried tears of disappointment after losing to Lee in the semi-final. Michelle wants desperately to win the Womens Publinx, but not as much as she wants to win the Mens. You see Michelle Wie wants to be the first woman to play in the Masters. The Mens Publinx champion gets invited to Augusta National. And why not consider the possibility? After all, Michelle already hits the ball farther than 90 percent of the men at the Masters. So look out Tiger. Remember, shes only 12.