BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- When Charlie Wi learned last week he was in the field of the PGA Championship, he was so excited about playing in his very first major at the age of 36 that he went to Hawaii for six days and didn't bother to take his clubs. "I was on the road six weeks before that," said Wi, who put together back-to-back rounds of even-par 70 to stay on the halfway leaderboard at Oakland Hills CC. "We were at a friend's wedding, so we were in Waikiki. Just got back Saturday, practiced a little bit then I showed up here Tuesday morning."
Prior to the PGA, Wi's knowledge of Oakland Hills was pretty much confined to watching T.C. Chen double-hit his way to a second-place finish in the '85 U.S. Open--probably not the best mental image to carry into your first major. "When I got here, I called home and I said, 'this is the hardest golf course I've ever played.' So, if I were to play here every day, I don't know if I would enjoy it. When I played it, I was really overwhelmed but when I got another round in on Wednesday I felt a lot more comfortable."
Wi's journeyman career has included stints on the PGA Tour, Nationwide Tour, the Japanese Tour, the Asian Tour and the European Tour, where he still has a membership. He has never played in a Masters and, by his recollection, failed to qualify for the U.S. Open five times. He missed making it into the field at Royal Birkdale in his one brush with links golf in '98, shooting 50 on the back nine in that qualifier.
Korean-born Wi, who was a first team All-American out of the University of California in '95, thought about giving up golf following a neck injury in '99. The following year he played on the Nationwide Tour but, "I didn't do very well and at that time I thought about quitting." He still had his Asian Tour card and his manager convinced to finish out the season there. "I don't know why," says Wi, "my fortunes just changed and I finished fourth, third and second. That's when my career turned around really."
Wi gives a lot of credit to the Stack and Tilt gurus, Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett, for helping him understand his golf swing. This season, he's is 26th on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation but 164th in three-putt avoidance, a potentially scary thought on Oakland Hills' undulating greens. "I'll tell you one thing," says Wi. "I'm very excited about being near the lead. I want to see how I handle myself. I want to see what the pressure feels like."
-- Jim Moriarty