ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s turning into a stressful week for Charlie Wi at the Arnold Palmer Invitational here.
Not because he shot a six-under 66 and had the lead midway through the first round. No, the hard part is explaining this trip to his 6-year-old daughter, Kaylen.
“She doesn’t get that I’m in Orlando,” Wi said, shaking his head. “She thinks I’m at Disney World. I tell her, ‘I’m not at Disney World.’ So I have to get her a T-shirt. Walgreens would have Disney T-shirts, right?”
Wi laughed. He knows Dad had better not come home empty-handed. His daughter has already gotten a taste of the Magic Kingdom. He brought her two years ago and spent some time at the park with her Sunday evening after playing the final round at Bay Hill.
“I was beat,” Wi said. “You know how Epcot kind of is laid out in a circle? We were in an Italian restaurant, and I could see that big dome and I said, 'We have to walk all the way over there? Get me to the hotel room already.' I was so tired.”
There is undoubtedly another trip to Disney World in Kaylen’s future. Probably in Wi’s future, too, since he’s also got a 2-year-old son, Joshua.
The 66 was a nice little comeback for Wi, in more ways than one. For starters, he suffered a 13 on a par-5 hole during the final round of last week’s Transitions Championship. You don’t have to be even slightly superstitious to know that making a 13 is bad luck in professional golf.
Plus, when we last noticed Wi, he was leading the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in the final round before that Phil Mickelson character went on a birdie binge, shot 64 and edged him by a couple of strokes. Wi birdied the last three holes to shoot 72—not bad but it wasn’t enough for Wi to finally snag his first PGA Tour victory.
Of course, the first question Wi faced from a group of golf writers after his round wasn't about his 66 — it was about last week’s 13.
“Thanks,” he joked. Seriously, it didn’t bother him at all. “It was just a blip on the radar. I didn’t even think about it. Actually, I figured I should have gone for the tour record so at least I could be remembered.”
So how did that 13 happen? Wi was in the trees at the fifth hole, and in trying to escape, he hit three shots in a row that ricocheted off a tree and onto the practice range, out of bounds. At that point, he’d created a deep divot, plus he had only three more balls left to finish the round and, as Wi pointed out, “I couldn’t afford to risk any more because I had some water holes coming up.”
Wi was already near the bottom of the pack, so a big number wasn’t going to cost him much in the way of money, he said. “I was pretty mad on the sixth tee, but after that I was fine,” he said. “That 13 was just a number.”
He played the remainder of the round in one under par.
The near miss at Pebble Beach was a little tougher to get over. He missed a couple of short putts in the final round there, which he admitted was probably due to nerves, but left with a positive vibe and the feeling that, “My time will come.”
But he wasn’t expecting it to happen at Bay Hill, a course where he hasn’t fared well in the last few years. He skipped the tournament in 2009 because he didn’t care for the fourth and 16th holes, par 5s that were converted into par 4s, but he returned when they were changed back to par 5s. The course didn’t fit his eye and maybe was just a little long for his game, he said.
Asked about his record here, Wi laughed and answered, “WD, missed cut, missed cut, 24th." He hadn’t broken par in six rounds until his third round last year, when he also fired a 66.
The course wasn’t too long for Wi on Thursday. He reached the fourth and 16th holes in two and two-putted for birdies. He also sank a 35-foot putt for birdie at the par-5 sixth hole, which he hit 6-iron into after hitting his drive into a fairway bunker, an 18-footer for birdie at the seventh, and a 30-footer for birdie at the 14th. In total, he holed putts that added up to 110 feet in length, according to the PGA Tour’s Shotlink statistical analysis.
It added up to a very good day.