Michelle Wie’s attempt to qualify for the United States Open Golf Championship was part circus, part surreal, part frenzy and all about the future of golf.
Wie, the 16-year-old female sensation, was the reason nearly 6,500 spectators and more than 300 journalists showed up at the Canoe Brook Country Club Monday. The swarm to the course was so high that USGA and club officials closed the gates to new fans late in the morning. A Wie sellout, so to speak, as the youngster from Hawaii was the reason the crowds were there.
“I’ve played in about 25 of these (sectionals) things and if you totaled up all the fans who’ve attended over the years it wouldn’t match today’s crowd,” explained Duke Delcher, a 1994 U.S. Open qualifier and two-time U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist. For the record, there were 152 other competitors on hand, searching for one of 18 berths in the U.S. Open, but the majority of the masses came to witness Wie’s attempt at becoming the first woman to qualify for the Open.
“This was a blast, I had a lot of fun. I’m disappointed I didn’t make it but I am happy with the way I played,” said Wie after carding rounds of 2-under-par 68 on the South Course before finishing at 3-over-par 75 on the North Course for a 143 total. Her 1-over par total placed her 5 shots from qualifying.
The youngster from Hawaii was in the hunt for a qualifying spot through 27 holes of 36 holes of sectional qualifying, but a 3-over-par 39 back nine stopped her dream of playing with the big boys at historic Winged Foot. Wie left Canoe Brook disappointed but with the knowledge that her game is just a smidgen from where it needs to be to qualify for a prestigious men’s event.
“She has game, a lot of game,” said PGA Tour pro David Gossett, one of her playing partners. “She is an accomplished player, and I was very impressed. It’s hard to believe she is only 16. It was like playing in a grouping with Nicklaus or Woods, there were thousands following her.”
Two of her competitors had Lower Bucks County (Pa.) ties. Touring professional Jon Rusk of Washington Crossing carded rounds of 1-over-par 73 on the North Course and 1-under-par 70 on the South Course for an even par 142, finishing 4 strokes out of qualifying but one better than Wie.
Richboro native Duke Delcher opened at 2-under-par 68 on the South Course before tiring in the afternoon on the North Course and scoring 77 for a 145 total.
“This was a great experience,” said Wie with a smile. “I played my hardest, felt I played well. There wasn’t pressure on me making it, I just tried to play my game. I think this experience will help me this week (at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship.”
As for her fans, which included hundreds of young girls and boys wearing “I (heart) Wie”, the youngster spoke beyond her years.
“I don’t think I had anything to prove, but I do think that if there’s one thing the kids take away from this is to follow your dreams. There’s no question I will be back next year.”