Michelle Wie walks to the 18th green during the third round of the U.S. Women's Open in Pinehurst. Wie won her first major tournament on Pinehurst No. 2, considered one of the more difficult courses in all of golf.
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Michelle Wie walks to the 18th green during the third round of the U.S. Women's Open in Pinehurst. Wie won her first major tournament on Pinehurst No. 2, considered one of the more difficult courses in all of golf.

At age 67, a golf-covering rookie turns into a vet

By Rip Woodin

Special To The Telegram

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PINEHURST – At age 67, I’m a rookie.

While some of the LPGA Tour rookies were playing their first U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2, I’m covering my first. After a 44-year newspaper career, I was invited to be a reporter for the Open Daily, published by The Pilot in Southern Pines. Notice I didn’t say “golf writer.” Those are guys like Jim Dodson, Steve Eubanks and Lee Pace who know that green refers to the putting surface, not the color of money.

As a slave reporter, I tromp through the dusty pine straw with sweat trickling down my back in nearly triple-digit heat looking for a story. And it’s fun. My pay is a chance to watch one of the great shows in the golf world while hanging out with the major leaguers in the way cool Media Center.

The first golf tournament I attended was the 1970 Greater Greensboro Open at Sedgefield Country Club. The only players I knew were Sam Snead, in the twilight of his great career, and Arnold Palmer who was fighting off the challenge to his kingship from a porky kid named Nicklaus. Jack rarely played the GGO since it was the week before The Masters, a snub that earned him the enmity of every GGO fan.

I was assigned to write a descriptive “color story” since I knew nothing about golf. I was a tennis player growing up and thought a niblick was something you ate in between meals. So I wrote about soft breezes, towering pines, drinking beer and pretty girls, the latter two of which were most important in my life at the time. Legendary Greensboro Daily News city editor Henry Coble, green eyeshade and all, grunted something unintelligible when I turned it in, but it ran and I stayed employed. That was my last foray into golf prose until this week.

A job in remote Oak Hill, WV, where I edited three non-dailies, actually got me started playing golf. I went out to the White Oak Country Club and asked legendary West Virginia pro Ed Carte where the tennis courts were.

“Over there, across the holler,” he answered

“Don’t see ‘em,” I mumbled, feeling stupid.

“See the golf carts, they’re parked on the tennis courts.”

That was a sure-fire way to build golf shop sales. In short order I had a set of Ping Eye irons and two Tony Penna persimmon woods. This was 1986 and the first Big Bertha, actually a little Bertha compared to today’s clubs, was just coming out so I started with real woods.

On the practice tee at Pinehurst, I saw every club and color shaft imaginable from companies I’ve never heard of. The pros’ clubs don’t look, feel or sound like those swung by weekend warriors. The results were quite a bit different, too.

The worst 4-day total of the Open was posted by Sandra Changkija of Japan at 24 over par. I’d trade my swing for hers any time. Here are a few things I’ll remember.

  • My favorite hole this week was the par four third when the tees were up encouraging a little reward for the high risk of driving the 238-yard green. The best shot I saw was when Brittany Lang blasted out of the right front bunker holing her second shot on Sunday for an eagle. The worst was hit by second place finisher Stacy Lewis who intended to play it safe from a lay up position about 100 yards out. Instead, she skulled a screamer from the right side of the fairway over the green and down the hill between the fifth green and fourth tee. It led to a double bogey. She ended up two strokes behind winner Michelle Wie.
  • I must applaud the fine southern hospitality shown by every single employee or contractor from security guards to marshals. They were smiling, pleasant and helpful. Wal-Mart could take a lesson in customer service from the USGA.
  • Talking to three-time U.S. Open winner Annika Sorenstam was a lot more fun than interviewing Presidents Ford and Carter who didn’t know what the word “funny” meant.
  • Sakura Yokomine swings way past parallel like John Daly but hits the ball a lot better.
  • “Ecology” cart is a euphemism for the trash man who replaces the ubiquitous plastic bags diligently used by every fan. Not a single bottle or paper littered the course.
  • Kudos to the USGA for giving out free bottles of water all four days so fans wouldn’t have to be carted off like one unfortunate woman who ended up in the First Aid tent with an IV in her arm. A whole lot more water was drunk than beer.
  • Lucy Li is really a little girl with pigtails and braces but an adult swing. Besides charming the media, Michelle Wie will be looking over her shoulder in another five years.
  • Wie’s shorts are really not that short, really. She just has very long legs. And she’s quite nice as is the majority of the women. Sunday Wie stopped along the ropes off the sixth green and handed her ball to a little girl who just beamed. Good PR or kindness? It doesn’t matter.

She proved she can handle the major pressure and be nice at the same time. Imagine that from Tiger Woods.

Now that the tournament is over, I’m not taking home a hat or shirt to commemorate the Open. My souvenir is my media badge that says I’m no longer a rookie golf writer. Since the U.S. Opens won’t be coming back to Pinehurst any time soon, I’m a retired veteran.

Rip Woodin is a former publisher of the Rocky Mount Telegram.