Michelle Wie, 13, became the youngest champion in the 108-year history of United States Golf Association adult championships when she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at the par-72, 6,068-yard course at Ocean Hammock Golf Club.
Wie, of Honolulu , Hawaii , outlasted Virada Nirapathpongporn , 21, of Thailand , in a classic match play battle, 1 up, in the 36-hole final. The much-publicized, long-hitting Wie had never won a tournament outside of her native Hawaii .
“It means a lot,” Wie said. “I never won a national championship. The Women’s Amateur Public Links was my first for everything. It was my first national tournament to play in, when I was 10, so I’m pretty glad.”
“It was fun playing with her,” said Nirapathpongporn. “She obviously has the advantage of that length. For me, it’s just unfortunate. I worked so hard and tried my best.”
It was superb golf. Wie was a stroke-play equivalent of seven under par for the 36 holes. Nirapathpongporn was six under par.
Wie had to fight back from a four-hole deficit to do it. Although Wie went 1 up on the second hole with a birdie, Nirapathpongporn birdied five of the next six holes and was 4 up after the 8 th .
Wie birdied the 9 th , the 11 th and 13 th to cut the margin to one hole. The 487-yard, par-5 14 th had surrendered birdies and eagles to her throughout the championship. This time, she again birdied to square the match where it remained through the 18 th hole..
In the afternoon round, Nirapathpongporn continued to hit precise irons at the flagstick. She won the 20 th hole when Wie’s approach landed in an unplayable lie and went 2 up at the par-3 22 nd hole with a short birdie putt.
Wie’s exceptional play over the next several holes put her in command. She sank a 10-foot birdie putt from against the fringe on the 23 rd hole. At the 479-yard, par-5 24 th , she seemed to take charge with a brilliant iron shot. Nirapathpongporn played the hole conservatively, hitting the green in three strokes.
Wie hit a drive of nearly 320 yards into a waste area, then hit a 5 iron from 180 yards for her second shot. She slashed her ball out of the sand with a loud crack. The ball flew over a water hazard and landed on the green, rolling into the back fringe. Wie’s chip for eagle rimmed the hole but the powerful birdie squared the match.
A par on the 25 th and a birdie on the 27 th gave Wie a 2-up advantage. She drove into the water on the 29 th , losing one hole. Nirapathpongporn’s wonderful iron approach shot and birdie on the 31 st hole again squared the match.
At the 32 nd hole, (the par-5 14 th ), Wie banged a 6 iron second shot over a palm tree to within 20 feet of the hole. Nirapathpongporn hit her third shot to within a few feet, but Wie drained the putt for a winning eagle to again take a 1-up lead.
Nirapathpongporn squared the match on the very next hole when Wie was forced to play out of a water hazard. The dizzying pace of the match came to an unfortunate end on the 35 th hole when Nirapathpongporn, who had been steady with her putter all day, missed a three-foot putt for a par and a half and Wie was one up going into the 36 th hole. Both players made par 4s, and the match, attended by some 800 spectators, was over.
Wie, who tried several daring shots during the final, said, “Golf is more fun if you take risks.” Referring to her wonderful 5-iron shot out of the waste area on the 24 th hole, she said. “If you make it on the island green you feel wonderful and as if you’ve won the championship.”
Her father, B.J. Wie , a professor at the University of Hawaii , again served as her caddie. Did he want her to try the risky shot?
“He said, ‘Uh, uh,’ “ said Michelle . “I said, ‘I’m going.’ “
In her itinerary, where Michelle Wie is going next is the LPGA event in Atlantic City, N.J., then at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore. She will also compete in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne , Pa.
Where the amazing 13-year-old, the youngest USGA champion in adult championships, is going in the future is perhaps to greater glory.
The Women’s Amateur Public Links is one of 13 national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association, of which ten are strictly for amateurs.