2005: Wiemania hits the Heartland

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Silvis, Ill.

That sound you heard after Michelle Wie missed the John Deere Classic cut by two strokes was: The Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce president heaving his calculator against the wall after figuring lost economic impact on the weekend.

Midway leader J.L. Lewis yelling, “About time somebody noticed me.”

A headline that screamed, “Woe is Wie.”

Teenagers sobbing over all town.

Air coming out of the MetLife blimp and all of Bettendorf.

A carnival barker thanking everyone for coming as they left town.

None of that might be far from the truth. What’s certain is the presence and play of the 15-year-old Wie pumped circus-like excitement into a PGA Tour event in this blue-collar Mississippi River community. She was the Teen Queen of Moline, and she caused such a stir that tournament director Clair Peterson said it trumped Tiger Woods’ appearance here in 1996 as a Tour rookie. Round 2 was the event’s “biggest day ever” in six years at the TPC at Deere Run.

“There was electricity in the air today,” Peterson said. “It was the same feeling in the air as with Tiger. It was a real buzz.”

Bottom line, everybody won. Wie, because she broke par with 1-under-par 70-71–141 in a PGA Tour event

on a 7,193-yard course and gained more valuable experience. Golf, particularly the women’s game, because of widespread interest in this spectacle. The tournament, because of bulging Thursday-Friday galleries, including about 6,000 to 10,000 following her in Round 2. The community, because of a record contribution for charity. And touring pros, who got their event back Saturday after Wiemania ended.

For 32 holes, it appeared the Wow Wie Experience would continue through the weekend, that she’d be the first female

to make a Tour cut in 60 years, that the slogan here should be, “Nothing Runs Like A Dear.” When she hit a 7-iron stiff on No. 18, her ninth hole, the ovation was so loud that Wie said she thought she’d go deaf. At that point she was tied for 42nd through 27 holes. Nine holes later she was tied for 88th and heading out, leaving a calmer environment in her wake.

The 11th-grader from Honolulu was playing wonderfully and stood at 4 under par with four holes left. She was in line to make the cut with a stroke to spare. But she went bunker to bunker and three-putted from 21 feet for double bogey on No. 6, her 15th hole of the day. Then she bogeyed the par-3 seventh after blocking a 4-iron far right.

So with a couple of bad swings a 15-year-old singlehandedly dimmed the lights.

Last time I witnessed such a buzz kill, Bartman was watching baseball at Wrigley Field in October.

“I’m more disappointed that I was shooting so well and then the two holes just kind of screwed me over,” said Wie, who missed eight putts of 21 feet or less on her last nine.

She’ll play as an amateur all summer and then who knows. Asked if there was any truth to speculation that Wie would turn professional when she turns 16 in October, her father, B.J., said, “That’s one of the scenarios. We haven’t decided yet.”

Whenever she turns pro – and why not now, because she’s good enough – she’ll focus on women’s golf and perhaps dabble against the men. If she progresses, she’ll try to qualify for the PGA Tour down the road. Projecting, there’s no reason to think she won’t make it someday –

a decade from now, whenever. If she’s as good as Woods was at 15, and Woods was a Masters champion at 21, then who’s to say she won’t be a decent PGA Tour member someday?

Wie is a mental-physical phenom who defies age and gender. She hit 23 greens in regulation and averaged 271 yards off the tee. She played the back nine in 5 under par over two days.

She has now broken par in two of her six PGA Tour rounds. The other was at the 2004 Sony Open. The 2-for-6 is interesting and significant because of her age and because Woods didn’t break par on Tour until his 12th round. Woods was 18 at the time, back in 1994 at Westchester.

Here, she beat 63 players in Round 1 and ended up ahead of 54 guys after 36 holes. All over America

15-year-old girls were shopping, worrying about and twirling their hair, wearing out the instant-message element of the Internet, hanging out at the mall, using the cellular phone more than Catherine Zeta-Jones, flirting with boys, playing soccer or softball, counting the days until they can drive a motor vehicle, and did I mention shopping?

And Michelle Wie was beating up on dozens of men.

“She’ll beat a lot of guys for the rest of her life,” said playing competitor Scott Gutschewski, who wore pink pants in Round 2 in support of a tournament charity, breast cancer research.

The other witness in the threesome, Nick Watney, also gushed. “She played so well, and then you realize she’s a 15-year-old girl,” the rookie said. “That’s mind-boggling.”

This is different, too: Wie excelled in front of the youngest gallery I’ve seen in more than two decades of hanging around PGA Tour events. Her following had to set a Tour record for most schoolgirls in tow. Who sponsored this event, anyway, Toys “R” Us?

“It was great seeing all these young girls and boys out there,” Wie said. “It’s really awesome.”

If 9-year-olds had credit cards, the pro shop would have sold out. If I had the Abercrombie & Fitch concession, I could retire. And if Tour veteran Duffy Waldorf has his way, maybe his teenage son Tyler will date Miss Wie.

“She’s pretty cute,” Waldorf said. “I was thinking I could fix her up with my son. Hopefully he likes long-distance relationships. And I always wanted a pro in the family.”

A fashionable pro, anyway.

For Round 2, Wie wore a blue designer belt with the number 68 as a belt buckle. She bought it in France. She wore it, she said, because “it was the number I was trying to shoot.”

Until the last four holes, she was on track. That she derailed really means nothing at this point. The long journey matters. And, once again, it has picked up speed even before she has a driver’s license.









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