Michelle Wie and the women's professional golf tour tee it up in Portland this week, starting Friday. It's the 37th annual Safeway Classic, a three-day golf tournament held at the Columbia Edgewater country club every year. Ethan Lindsey reports.
The big story - or overblown story if you ask some of the other players — is that teen golf phenom Michelle Wie is playing in Portland this week.
Pat Hurst, last year's champion, says the media make Wie's appearances a bigger deal than they actually are.
Pat Hurst: “She brings out the crowds, which is good in that sense. But with the media and all that we don't really notice it. She probably notices it a little more than we do. We think its good that she's out supporting us, the more people we can get out here the better it is.”
Wie has played in Portland before, in 2003, when she was 13 years old. That was just after she made world headlines as the young champion of the U.S. women's amateur crown.
Her play since then has been up and down.
She turned pro at age 16. And she almost made history - she was high on the leader board at a men's professional golf event, but missed getting to the weekend rounds and the prize money. She's missed that cut regularly this year.
She came close to a yearlong ban from the tour, when she almost shot an 88 - not a good score for any professional.
And she used a technique called a tour exemption to get into the Portland tournament - she didn't qualify automatically.
Walking around the course on Thursday, the pros mingle with the crowd.
It's the pro-am, where heavyweight sponsors pay to line up golf stars like Paula Creamer and Julie Inkster to hit the links with groups of weekend duffers, and maybe show them how to get rid of that nasty slice.
The Safeway Classic likes to claim that it's not just about golf.
It's given $11 million in charity to local organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, and last year gave out $1 million through the company's nonprofit charitable arm.
Tom Maletis is the president of Tournament Golf Foundation, the event organizer. He says the economic impact is beyond just the golf course.
Tom Maletis: “You have vendors coming in to set up the course. We have over 450 pro-am players flying in. A few years back we did a study and it came out to $12 million.”
This weekend's tournament is one of the more glamorous on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour, the prize pool totals $1.7 million. 144 women will tee off on Friday, which is when the cable television coverage begins.
Though, the Safeway classic isn't glamorous enough to be aired on ESPN - you can see it on ESPN2, all three days.
Jane Reynolds is a rules official who's been tending to the course all week.
Jane Reynolds: “This is by far one of the most beautiful courses the LPGA players come to, and its in great shape. The thing I particularly love is the trees. Being from the east, its always fun to come out here.”
Even with defending champion pat Hurst, and the world's best women's golfer Lorena Ochoa coming to town, Tournament organizer Maletis speculates that Michelle Wie will probably get center stage.
Tom Maletis: “Players like Michelle Wie just drive more people out to the tournament, but its not just about one player. Its about the whole field.”
And even though event organizers won't complain about the attention on Wie, if she continues to struggle, they don't want people going home disappointed.