Wood among those unhappy to see WAPL go away

Hannah and Don Wood after Hannah officially committed to the University of Oklahoma, starting this fall.

DuPONT, Wash. – The U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship has always been a celebration of golfers who play at public golf courses.

The event was first conducted in 1977. Kelly Fuiks, who would become Mrs. David Leadbetter, won the the first two. Pearl Sinn, at the time the most dominant amateur in the world -- man or woman -- captured back-to-back WAPL victories in 1988 and 1989 to go along with her U.S. Women's Amateur title in 1988.

At 10 years old, Michelle Wie put her name in the record books as the youngest competitor in Public Links history. When she won at 13, Wie was (and still is) the youngest winner of an adult championship run by the U.S. Golf Association.

All this individual glory is coming to an end, as the 38th and last WAPL starts Monday, July 14, at The Home Course here on the Washington coast.

The line between public and private golfers has become blurred in recent years, and both the women's and men's Public Links events are being replaced in 2015 by Amateur Four-Ball (better-ball) Championships for men and women.

"It was pretty heart-breaking to hear that," said 18-year-old Hannah Wood of Centennial, Colo., who is competing in her second straight WAPL.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without the game of golf and all the wonderful people I've met at different tournaments, many of them played on public courses. I love the whole idea, the whole concept of this event. I'm very sad to see it go away."

Wood is accompanied here at the last WAPL by her father and caddie Don Wood, and therein lies another intriguing story. Wood and his two brothers, Dave and Charlie, owned and operated Wood Brothers Golf, a popular golf equipment company in the 1980s.

They had the perfect surname. They were craftsmen in wood. The company, located in Humble, Texas, produced persimmon drivers used by six major champions -- Ben Crenshaw (1984 Masters), Greg Norman (1986 Open Championship), Bob Tway (1986 PGA), Jeff Sluman (1988 PGA), Wayne Grady (1990 PGA) and Bernhard Langer (1993 Masters).

Langer became the last player to win a major with a wooden-head driver. it was a Texan model, the most famous of the Wood Brothers clubs.

Davis Love III often is credited with using a wooden driver in his 1997 PGA Championship victory, but he had switched to a Titleist metalwood.

Unfortunately for the Wood brothers, woods made of persimmon were on the way out. Wood Brothers Golf eventually closed its doors.

Charlie Wood pursued his dream of teaching and coaching at the high school level. Dave Wood became the principal golf club designer for MacGregor Golf. Don Wood took a job as senior designer at Cleveland Golf, where he and Todd Harman, currently the Cleveland president, created an extraordinary variety of wedges and other clubs.

Today, Dave is a painter and commercial artist (davewoodarts.com). Charlie is teaching. After Don's marriage ended, he left the golf business to concentrate on raising Hannah, who will start her college golf career this fall at the University of Oklahoma.

Hannah's biggest victory came in the Kathy Whitworth Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2013. In order to foster an active competitive schedule for his daughter and guide her development as a student, person and golfer, Don took a job as a car salesman to provide travel flexibility.

He isn't the first well-known golf figure to end up in this profession. Ted Purdy, who has won tournament on four different tours -- PGA Tour, Web.com Tour, Asian Tour, and PGA Tour Latinoamerica -- also began selling cars after losing his PGA Tour card.

"I wasn't very good at it," Purdy says, although Wood is very good at it. Regardless, with Hannah heading to college in August, he is looking at a return to the golf industry.

Don has distinct ideas about teaching golf to juniors.

"She was 4 or 5 years old," recalled Don, who also worked for golf companies Plop and Zevo in addition to selling wedges with his own name on them. "To make golf fun, I taught her to hit a wedge and catch the ball. It was brutally hard to do. Before she could even hit a driver, she could hit a wedge and catch the ball.

"That was the beginning foundation of her short game. She learned the virtues of the short game first, and today she has an arsenal of shots. She is very handy with a wedge in her hands."

When Hannah is on the practice range, Don often insists that she hit shots to a variety of targets from an assortment of lies ranging from perfect to terrible.

"Our practice regimen is heavily tilted to the short game," Don explained. "For every one golf shot on the range, she will hit 20 with a wedge or a putter. She will hit a large bucket, then go to the practice green for two hours. If you don't have a good defense, you don't have anything."

At 5-foot-3 and maybe 105 pounds, Hannah has become what her father characterizes as "sneaky long" off the tee. Already she has an extensive history in tournament golf, winning her first event at 6 and playing here in her sixth USGA championship. She qualified for the 2014 WAPL with a 2-under 70 at Saddle Rock Golf Course in Aurora, Colo., winning by five strokes.

"I believe in discipline," Don said. "I've pushed Hannah. I want to make sure she's prepared. But there's never been any punishment. One of the laws I have is this: No matter how she plays, I hug her at the end of every round. I'm there to support her. I hope my kids (Hannah has an older brother, Emerson) will pass the down the game of golf to a sixth generation."

Those previous five generations of golfers include Craig Wood, winner of 21 PGA Tour events and two majors (the Masters and U.S. Open, both in 1941). He is perhaps better known as the first golfer to lose all four major championships in playoffs.

That includes the 1935 Masters, in which he lost a 36-hole playoff to Gene Sarazen after Sarazen's famous double eagle on the 15th hole of the final round.

"I'm truly thankful for my family," Hannah reflected. "I'm thankful for the way everybody has guided me in golf. It's the best game with the best people. I feel so fortunate. I just want to keep maturing and keep playing good golf."

Knock on Wood.

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