A golfer from Hawai`i has been paired with Annika Sorenstam in the first rounds of this year’s PGA Tour. Dean Wilson, 33, will find himself near the center of attention as play begins Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. Other eyes, meanwhile, are on the Boise Open, where 13-year-old Hawai`i golfer Michelle Wie is also set to make history.
As the first woman in 58 years to play in the tour, Sorenstam is making national headlines, her presence not entirely welcomed by the otherwise all-male PGA field. Wilson, however, welcomes her.
“I feel she has every right to be in this tournament, and I’m all for her playing well,” he said in a press conference yesterday. An article in yesterday’s New York Times noted that he was wearing a “Go Annika” button.
“I’ve been a big fan of hers for many years,” he said. “I think it will be great to be alongside her and watch how someone like her handles herself in this situation.”
Last week, seventh-ranked golfer Vijay Singh said that Sorenstam didn’t belong on the PGA Tour saying women had their own tour and that he wouldn’t play if paired with her. Singh later announced that he was pulling out of the tour for two weeks, avoiding play in Fort Worth.
Wilson will be joined by 33-year-old Minnesota golfer Aaron Barber as Sorenstam’s partners at the Colonial Country Club. Their names were drawn at random, and their selection will net them considerably more coverage than they’d otherwise receive. As one reporter noted, Wilson and Barber will probably go down in history as answers to a trivia question.
Said Barber: “I was surprised we even had to do a press conference we’re just the two guys playing with her.”
Wilson is presently a 65th ranked player, winning over $441,000 in 12 starts. Now a resident of Las Vegas, he recently told 808Golf.com that he started playing golf at age 13 with his mother on the Pali Municipal Golf Course.
In the wake of the Sorenstam controversy, there is another Hawai`i golfer that many expect to break the gender and age barrier: eighth-grader Michelle Wie.
Wie, 13, accepted an exemption to play in the Boise Open on the Nationwide Tour, making her the first woman to play on that circuit.
“”She could be the one,” Sorenstam said of Wie in an interview with the Dallas-based Star-Telegram. “She is playing on a totally different level at that age than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Wrote Star-Telegram reporter Jimmy Burch, “The tall teen-ager with braces is fast becoming America’s most heralded golf prodigy since Tiger Woods.”
As it turns out, Wie too has a less contentious connection to Singh: she was teamed with him earlier this year during the Pro-Junior Golf Challenge at the Sony Open here in Hawaii.
At the time, Singh was quoted as saying: “You watch her swing and say, ‘That’s normal.’ Then you realize that she’s only 13 and that’s … that’s unbelievable.”