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Wie sets up ping-pong fundraiser

Wie sets up ping-pong fundraiser

Source: Star Advertiser

What is happening a few hours after next month's LPGA Lotte Championship concludes at Ko Olina Golf Club is not your mother's junior golf fundraiser.

Unless, possibly, your mother loves table tennis.

Michelle Wie, in cahoots with the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association, golf broadcaster/Kapalua resident Mark Rolfing and a few of Wiesy's most entertaining friends, is staging "Wie Love Ping-Pong."

The table tennis smackdown is being staged April 19 -- the day Lotte ends -- at eleven44, a nightclub owned by the father of one of Wie's Punahou classmates.

Wie actually took a Ping-Pong class her final semester at Stanford.

"I'd never taken a fun class," she once told David Feherty. "I took hip-hop my freshman year and it turned out to be more trauma than fun."

From all accounts, she has got game. "Just thinking about her wingspan and how she can cover the table ...," Rolfing muses. "I think she could be pretty good."

The Ping-Pong goal is to raise $50,000 to fund two college scholarships through the Hawaii Community Foundation, and raise the profile of the HSJGA.

The fundraising idea was dreamed up by Ko Olina director of golf Greg Nichols, who saw Wie's passion for Ping-Pong at another fundraiser last year. He proposed it and the board loved it.

So did Rolfing and HSJGA president Mary Bea Porter-King, once they got past the initial shock.

"I was blown away," Porter-King admits.

"Maybe our generation is a little beyond this," shrugs Rolfing, who calls Brad Faxon a Ping-Pong fanatic and has followed Team USA's Ryder Cup table tennis bonding battles enough to know that Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson pack their own paddles.

Rolfing promises "some attitude" and smack-talking April 19. "It's going to be about going in and kicking butt on a Saturday night," he jokes.

This is as far from a rubber-chicken benefit bore as the HSJGA could get. It is also precisely what Wie, who has been raising money for and donating to the HSJGA for years, was looking for.

"Michelle is very excited," says Porter-King. "She is picking the music and getting silent auction stuff from friends like Rickie Fowler and Michael Jordan."

An adventurous eater who talks about food often on social media, Wie is also helping choose guest chefs. Those include Roy Yamaguchi, Sam Choy, Bonfire Pizza and a few other food trucks and Uncle Bo's -- a special Wie request.

Each pro will play Ping-Pong with two amateurs. The board is sending out invites and expects to sell out the 260 tickets -- for playing, eating and spectating -- easily.

Wie is bringing seven of her LPGA buddies, including Lydia Ko, Christina Kim, Cristie Kerr and Yani Tseng, for this new-breed Pro-Am.

"Michelle's and the HSJGA's only prerequisites are that the player has to have game," Nichols says, "and is fun to be around. And, of course, wants to help give back to the game."

Wie's game has been the source of speculation since she qualified for the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at 10. She plays in Thursday's Kia Classic first round with Paula Creamer and Inbee Park with a ranking of 41st in the world -- up 45 spots from a year ago -- and four top-13 finishes in as many starts in 2014.

She had just eight the past two years combined. Nichols is impressed that Wie came home in December without her clubs, and he, Porter-King and Rolfing are all happy with what they have seen in 2014.

"I was a little worried last year," says Rolfing, who sees a "refreshed outlook on life" from Wie now. "I wondered how much she really wanted this with everything she has been through the last decade. Is it really important to her at this stage to be the best player she can possibly be? Now I'm convinced it is really important. I feel better than I did a year ago."

Porter-King feels a bunch better about the little girl who started with Casey Nakama as her coach and the HSJGA as her tour.

"I'm very excited watching her play," Porter-King says. "We all know she's got talent galore, but what I see different this year is a little spark. She's excited to play this year, having fun. I don't know if I've seen that much fun in her game lately and I see it now, which makes me happy. I don't think you can play well unless you're having fun.

"The other thing people make comments about is her putting style. I love her putting for a lot of reasons. It's the first time I've seen her have a connection with the golf ball and the hole. She's over the ball now.

She never had much feel, and I think that had to do with her eyes. There was not a great connection. Now, her distance control is fabulous and ... with her back flat, her arms and shoulders are working as a pendulum. There's less room for error.

"The third thing I like is that Michelle created this putting style. She owns it and it's hers, as opposed to being told."

Wie will be home for the LPGA Lotte Championship, April 16-19 (final round Saturday). The qualifier is April 13, and Natalie Gulbis will host a free clinic for women and families the following day.

Admission is free Sunday-Tuesday and $10 daily for tournament rounds. Tickets will be available at the main gate tournament week.

Season badges are $25 and good for admission all week. Children 16 and under are free when accompanied by a paying adult.

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