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Notebook: Fay Says Wie Deserved Exemption

By Ken Klavon, USGA

South Hadley, Mass. - With the annual USGA Women's Open press conference held Wednesday, talk targeted exemptions given to three players this week.

In May, two-time Open winner Betsy King, Dottie Pepper and Michelle Wie were granted special exemptions from qualifying for the event. Pepper has since withdrawn due to an injury.

Wie, 14, has drawn the most attention because of her age. It is the second time in history that an amateur player has been granted an exemption into the Women's Open, the other one being Edwina Kennedy in 1981.

Coming off a disappointing runner-up finish at the U.S. Women's Public Links, Wie's credentials would indicate that she wasn't a laissez-faire selection.

As an amateur in three LPGA events this year, she has recorded three top-20 finishes, the best coming at the Kraft Nabisco Championship where she ended up fourth. It was her second top-10 finish in the major; in 2003 she placed ninth.

 
USGA Executive Director David Fay, left, and Women's Committee Chairman Jeanne Myers answer questions Wednesday. (John Mummert/USGA)

The other two other top-20 finishes in LPGA events in 2004 were: a 12th-place tie at the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill and a tie for 19th at the Safeway International. In January, she missed the cut at the PGA Tour's Sony Open by one stroke. If she were a professional, her play would have placed her 28th place on the money list. The top 35 players on the money list are automatically exempt.

"I feel like I deserved it because I earned my way here," said Wie. "I believe I got exempt because I played in three LPGA tournaments. I got 28th in the money list, so I would be exempt for this tournament. And that's all I have to say."

On Wednesday USGA Executive Director David Fay was asked what criteria are used in giving a player a special exemption. The USGA Women's Committee approves special exemptions for the Women's Open.

"If you look on the entry form you'll see a long list of exemption categories," said Fay. "It changes from year to year."

Two years ago the entire Curtis Cup team and the latest World Cup Amateur squad were exempted into the Open, for example.

"The Michelle Wie exemption has generated a lot of attention," said Fay. "It seems as if a number of people are fixated on the numbers on her birth certificate rather than the numbers that she's put up in competition.

"I've said it before, but the fact is had she been a professional she would be exempt by virtue of her performance in the three professional events."

Not Too Long

At 6,424 yards, the Orchards Golf Club course is not the longest U.S. Women's Open playing field. That distinction belongs to Pumpkin Ridge last year, at 6,550 yards, but The Orchards may play as one of the longest in championship history due to its design.  Many of the holes play long; No. 16, a par 4, plays at 439 yards and the 18th an uphill par 4 at 412 yards.  In fact, five of the par 4s will play at more than 400 yards and two of the three par 5s are longer than 500 yards.

Hilary Lunke, who solved the riddle of the longest course last year when she won in a playoff, is unsure about her chances on The Orchards.

"In general I don't think it sets up quite as good for me as Pumpkin Ridge, but I do think that U.S. Open courses in general suit my game," said Lunke. "Sixteen is definitely an incredibly difficult hole and 18 as well.  Both of them are playing into the wind.  And for some reason the drives don't seem to be bouncing at all in those holes; they seem to be wetter than the other ones. But basically, unless I hit the best drive of my life, I have no chance of going for 16.  I haven't even reached 18 either of the last two days; I've hit it just short with a driver and 4-wood."

Lunke is 147th on the LPGA list in driving distance at 236.6 yards, but seventh in driving accuracy at almost 82 percent. 

Winning Score?

Players never like to give predictions, so when the question is routinely asked, usually a 'no comment' or silence follows. But Tom Meeks, USGA Senior Director for Rules and Competition, estimated the winner this week will probably be about 2 or 3 under par.  The lowest score in Women's Open history is 16 under by Juli Inkster when she won at Old Waverly in 1999. According to the record book, Sheri Turner shot the second lowest under-par score that year at 11 under, and Kelli Kuehne the fourth lowest at 9 under.

Since 1984 when Hollis Stacy defeated Rosie Jones at Salem Country Club, there have been only two Opens where the winner finished over par. The first occurred in 1984 when Stacy finished 2 over to win her third Open, and then in 1998 when Se Ri Pak outdueled Jenny Chuasiriporn in a playoff at Blackwolf Run to win at 6 over.

Ken Klavon is the Web Editor for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at kklavon@usga.org. Alex Miceli contributed.