Lebanon, Ohio (July 13, 2005) -– Michelle Wie, 15, of Honolulu, Hawaii, and stroke-play medalist Anthony Kim, 20, of La Quinta, Calif., each earned 1-up first-round victories, under slightly different circumstances, Wednesday at the 2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship being played at the 6,966-yard, par-70 Shaker Run Golf Club.
Wie, the first female to qualify for a USGA men’s championship, played in front of a crowd of 500-600 people along with a plethora of television cameras, photographers and reporters, while Kim was in the first match of the day and competed in relative anonymity.
Wie holed a 15-foot birdie putt at the 420-yard, par-4 18th to eliminate 2004 APL quarterfinalist and recent Auburn University graduate Will Claxton of Swainsboro, Ga. Wie, 2003 Women’s Amateur Public Links champion, has made it a goal to play in the Masters and one way to achieve that feat is to win the APL. Augusta National has invited Amateur Public Links the APL champion since 1989.
Meanwhile, Kim, a first-team All-American this past season at the University of Oklahoma, held off Korean-born Ki Moon of Ellicott, Md., who needed to play four playoff holes on Tuesday just to get the last match-play spot. Six years ago, Kim was the 64th qualifier at the U.S. Junior at York (Pa.) Country Club and lost to medalist Sonny Nimkum.
“I didn’t play very good today,” said Kim, who meets Judd Easterling of Dixon, Mo., in the second round on Thursday morning. Easterling, who got into the field days before the start of the championship when Jeff Zimmerman withdrew due to a hand injury, edged Justin Fraley, 1 up. “I really didn’t do anything well. I just kept grinding it out. [I know] my game is going to show up sooner or later. I’m just glad … I was able to squeak out that win.”
Wie, on the other hand, went 2 down after four holes against Claxton. But she was able to maintain her focus and square the match with a par at No. 10. During a nine-hole stretch – from eight to 16, neither player halved a hole. At 17, Wie needed to make a 4-foot par putt to keep the match all square. This came after Claxton drained a 40-footer at 16 for a birdie.
“I didn’t play bad out there,” said Claxton. “I hit some good iron shots, but she hit fairways and greens and she putted really good. She’s a great golfer, but I guess you [reporters] already know that. The whole world knows that pretty much. I was very impressed. She is just as good as they said she was.”
At 18, both players found the fairway, but Wie had 180 yards to the flag, which was located in the back-left portion of the green. Her 6-iron approach stopped flag high, 15 feet right of the hole. Claxton was faced with a 156-yard shot, but his 8-iron approach came up about 35 feet below the hole. His birdie putt stopped a few feet short. Wie then stepped up and holed the putt, getting a rousing applause from the gallery.
“It felt good after I made that putt,” said Wie, who has finished second at two LPGA Tour events in 2005, including the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, and was one of three 54-hole leaders at the U.S. Women’s Open last month. “I felt really confident because I had made a lot of birdie putts before that (three previous in the match). I am very glad I made it.”
As for the gallery, Claxton had never experienced anything like that before, while Wie deals with spectators anywhere she competes.
“I was a little nervous last night thinking about the whole situation,” said Claxton. “But out there today, right off the very first tee, it didn’t bother me a whole lot. I was proud of myself for that because I really didn’t know what to expect.”
Added Wie, whose last match-play event came at the 2004 Women’s Amateur in Erie, Pa.: “It’s nice when the crowd supports you. Last year [at the Women’s Amateur], I was not actually the underdog and a lot of the gallery was pulling for the other player.”
Next up for Wie is C.D. Hockersmith of Richmond, Ind., a 20-year-old junior-to-be at Ball State University. The second-round match is scheduled for 9:09 a.m. on Thursday. The winner advances to a third-round match Thursday afternoon
Upsets were a common theme on this opening day. The biggest of the day came when Roger Welch, 22, of Benedict, Md., downed Danny Green of Jackson, Tenn., 2 and 1. The 48-year-old Green, a veteran of 39 USGA individual championships and the 1999 U.S. Mid-Amateur winner, was the oldest player to make the cut for match play by one month and 10 days (over fellow Tennessean Rob Long).
Welch, the 2002 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II champion and a senior-to-be at Southern Illinois University, never trailed in the match. He went ahead for good with a birdie at 15 and followed that up with another birdie at 16. Both players halved 17 with birdies.
“It feels good to beat him,” said Welch, who survived a 10-for-7 playoff late Tuesday to earn one of the last few spots in the match-play draw. “That’s the objective, to go out there and win … and I would say it’s a pretty big win.”
Welch said he wasn’t intimidated by Green’s reputation as a match-play specialist nor his impressive amateur credentials.
“The best thing you can do is not think about it,” said Welch. “I slept well last night. It’s just all about picking a spot and trusting your swing and hitting it. I think I did a pretty good job of that today.”
Matt Every of Daytona Beach, Fla., a first-team All-American at the University of Florida and the low amateur at the 2005 U.S. Open, fell to his roommate this week and fellow Gator, Duke Butler IV of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., 1 up. Every trailed by three holes with four to play, but couldn’t complete the comeback as Butler was able to halve the 18th hole with a par.
"We had a bet that the loser caddies [in the next round]," said Every prior to the match.
Three other survivors of Tuesday’s playoff also advanced, including 2004 APL quarterfinalist Clay Ogden of West Point, Utah. He eliminated Rodney Hamblin Jr. of St. Paul, Minn., 1 up. Royden Heirakuji, a 39-year-old air conditioning technician from Makawao, Hawaii, vanquished reigning U.S. Junior champion Sihwan Kim of Fullerton, Calif., 5 and 4, and Tyler Neal of Tucson, Ariz., defeated Ryan Spears of Del City, Okla., 2 and 1.
The comeback of the day belonged to 16-year-old Rory Hie of Cerritos, Calif. The Indonesian-born Hie was three down with three to play, but rallied for a 19-hole victory over Tye Alexander of Los Angeles. Hie won 16 with a par, eagled 17, parred 18 and then birdied the par-5 first hole to pull out the win. He’ll play Song Jeon of Korea in the second round.
Local favorite Scott Aker, from nearby Springfield, Ohio (55 minutes from the course), defeated Korean-born Kevin Kim of San Diego, Calif., 2 and 1. The key moment came at the par-3 11th when Aker knocked in a 20-foot chip shot from a difficult lie to take a 3-up advantage.
“It was a downhill lie and the ball was below my feet,” said Aker, who has had a nice following this week from friends and family, some of whom have donned Aker’s Army t-shirts. “It was a tough shot. I was definitely more relaxed [after that shot].”
While Aker’s gallery pales in comparison to the one following Wie around the course, the junior-to-be at Cedarville University in Ohio, does relish the support.
“It’s been awesome,” said Aker, who is competing in his second USGA event and first APL. “The weather, how early [my starting time] was today, and they came out again. It’s been great. I appreciate it. It’s probably been the second-biggest crowd (20 to 30 people) every day next to hers.”
The championship continues Thursday with second- and third-round matches. The quarterfinals and semis will be Friday, with the 36-hole final on Saturday. The APL is one of 13 national championships conducted by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Story written by USGA staff writer David Shefter. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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