Potomac PGA event plans to invite Wie

Sponsor's exemption eyed after teenager's near-miss


January 20, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Michelle Wie, the 14-year-old phenom who nearly made the cut while making history at a PGA Tour event last weekend in Hawaii, will be invited to play in this year's Booz Allen Open in Potomac in late June.

Steve Lesnik, the chief executive officer of Kemper Sports, which runs the $4.8 million event at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel, said yesterday that the decision to invite Wie on a sponsor's exemption came in response to her startling performance in the Sony Open in Honolulu.

Wie, playing on a sponsor's exemption in her hometown, shot rounds of 72 and 68 for even-par 140 to miss the cut by one stroke. She is believed to be the youngest player ever to participate in a PGA Tour event.

Statistically, her performance was even better than what LPGA star Annika Sorenstam did at the Colonial last May (5-over 145 to miss by four strokes) and far superior to what club pro Suzy Whaley did at the Greater Hartford Open in July (13-over 153 to miss by 13 strokes).

"It has been the buzz of the day in the golf industry," Lesnik said of Wie, the fourth female player ever in a PGA Tour event.

Lesnik, who will try to have one of his representatives extend the invitation to Wie while they are in Hawaii next week on business for next year's Maui Invitational basketball tournament, said there will be competition from other PGA Tour and LPGA events.

Wie's father, B.J. Wie, said last week that his daughter would play in six LPGA events this year.

"We know a bunch of other people will probably do it, too, and she will pick and choose," Lesnik said last night from Kemper Sports headquarters outside Chicago. "We hear through the grapevine that she is considering playing in a couple of men's tournaments this year. Whether that's true or not, we don't know."

The Booz Allen Open, which is scheduled for June 24-27, might run into the same problem that last year's event, then called the FBR Capital Open, experienced when it tried to get Sorenstam to play on a sponsor's exemption.

Just as last year's tournament was the same week as the LPGA Championship, one of the majors on the LPGA Tour, this year's PGA event is scheduled the same week as the Women's Amateur Publinx Championship. As a 13-year-old, Wie became the women's Publinx youngest winner last year.

"She has not said publicly yet whether she intends to defend it, but if she does have a choice of tournaments, it's customary in our sport to defend titles, so we're thinking for this year we may have a little bit of a disadvantage," Lesnik said.

The Booz Allen Open, the second successor to the Kemper Open, will likely need an attraction for its field this year because the tournament will be played the week after the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y.

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