Colorado Springs, Colo. – When Michelle Wie was little, her golf world was confined to the borders of her native Hawaiian islands.
I really had not heard about the [U.S.] Women’s Amateur Public Links, so I didn’t know what all that was out there, Wie said. Growing up, we were always encouraged to play in USGA qualifiers. But I still wasn’t quite sure how big USGA events really were.
Wie soon found out and, in turn, the world found out about Wie.
At age 10, Wie became the youngest girl to qualify for a USGA women’s amateur event, the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. Three years later, a 13-year-old Wie became the youngest player to win the WAPL.
In 2008, fellow Hawaiian Allisen Corpuz eclipsed Wie’s USGA qualifying age record by five months when she competed at the WAPL held at Erin Hills. At this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, another Hawaiian, 13-year-old Mariel Galdiano, will become the third-youngest player in the championship’s 66-year history.
I tell them you cannot be a national champion if you don't enter, said Mary Bea Porter-King, founder and president of the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association, which was formed in 1998. It also doesn't hurt that Hawaii has had many national champions over the years.
Porter-King proudly points to Lori Castillo, the 1978 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 1979-80 WAPL champion, and Kimberly Kim, who became the youngest winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2006. Castillo, Kim, Wie and current UCLA All-American Stephanie Kono have all played for the USA Curtis Cup Team.
In addition to Galdiano, hoping to add to that list this week are amateurs Kyung Kim (age 17), Kono (21), and sixth-year pro Wie (21).
Mary Bea has been a huge influence on us all, Wie said. She helped connect us with the mainland by bringing USGA qualifiers to Hawaii.
In 2011, Hawaii will host 15 USGA qualifiers, including one for the Women’s Open.
Galdiano, who advanced to the second round of last week’s WAPL at Bandon Dunes Resort, is trying to keep the mindset that this is just another competition. That can be difficult when the world’s finest are assembled on a Broadmoor course that is playing to a U.S. Women’s Open-record 7,047 yards.
I wasn’t really expecting much when I tried to qualify, but I have been trying to stay calm, she said. As it gets closer and closer, it becomes bigger and bigger. I think playing with all the great players is going to be a lot different than watching it on TV.
I actually think my dad is more excited than me. He was like ‘Yes!’ when I qualified.
Similar to Wie, Galdiano began playing at age 4 after her father, Rogelio, saw potential in her swing. Soon she entered the Hawaiian state junior pipeline.
On Wednesday, Annika Sorenstam, who won three U.S. Women’s Opens, including the 1995 edition played at The Broadmoor, led a junior golf clinic that featured Galdiano.
She's 12 years old [actually just turned 13], and I cannot imagine what it would be like to be at that age and playing this championship, Sorenstam said. I started playing golf at the age of 12, so I can certainly not relate.
Wie said Hawaiian junior golfers are encouraged to play up in age at local tournaments. A 14-year-old, for example, can move up to a 15-17 age division.
What a great way to test yourself if you’re capable of playing at that level, Wie said. You’re playing against better players and on longer courses. And I think that only helps accelerate your game.
Wie, who played a practice round with Galdiano on Wednesday, had some sage, but simple, advice for the new teen.
It's a great experience playing in a U.S. Open when you're 13 or 14, she said. At that age it's just an honor, I think, to bask in the whole experience of the U.S. Open. It's a truly unique experience for anyone to experience, no matter how old a player is.
But to play at such a young age, I think just have fun. Really enjoy it.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.