Michelle Wie the main focus of Curtis Cup
A four-day practice session at Sea Island Golf Club turned into a slumber party, not surprising considering the U.S. Curtis Cup team is the youngest in history.
After one practice round, 17-year-old Jane Park slid behind a piano and belted out Disney songs from ``Beauty and the Beast'' and ``Aladdin,'' as 14-year-old Michelle Wie stood behind her and twirled to the tunes.
They giggled and gossiped at night. The players strutted through the quaint downtown after dinner. They squealed during walks on the beach while daring each other to poke jellyfish that had washed ashore.
``Way too disgusting for me,'' Wie said.
Never have three high school students -- Wie, Park and Paula Creamer -- been on one Curtis Cup team. Never has the eight-woman team of amateurs failed to include anyone over age 25.
And never has so much focus been on one player.
Wie, the youngest of them all, generates so much hype that the Curtis Cup has never received this much attention.
Some 6,000 fans are expected from June 12-13 at Formby Golf Club in England, where the United States will try to retain the only cup it owns outright. Europe and British teams already have the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and Walker Cup, while the Presidents Cup ended in a tie.
For most of the English fans, it will be their first chance to see a 6-foot, ninth-grader from Hawaii who has twice contended for majors on the LPGA Tour and came within one shot of making the cut on the PGA Tour.
Wie commands a presence, which U.S. captain Martha Wilkinson Kirouac sees as a blessing and a curse.
``I'd like to get to the point of being a team of eight,'' she said. ``I think we'll get there.''
Kirouac, 54, has some experience with youth and star power.
She played on the 1972 Curtis Cup with 16-year-old Laura Baugh, at the time the youngest player in Curtis Cup history. Also on that team was 18-year-old Hollis Stacy, who went on to win three U.S. Women's Opens.
``It was a little bit of a challenge because we had two very young players,'' Kirouac said. ``The difference was, you had somebody there who had previous Curtis Cup experience. You had people to create a mentoring role.''
She doesn't have that luxury with this team.
The oldest player is 22-year-old Sarah Huarte, who just won the U.S. college title. Five others are teenagers, although two of them are in college (Brittany Lang and Erica Blasberg).
Kirouac was worried about having so many young players until she watched them perform. Now, her concern has shifted to her biggest star.
All the Curtis Cup players have solid credentials. None has the Q-rating of Wie. None know what it's like to live in a fish bowl. None has ever played before the kind of galleries Wie routinely attracts.
``I want somebody who can help her, influence her, but somebody who is self-assured living in the shadow of Michelle,'' Kirouac said. ``And there will be a shadow.''
The four-day practice session at Sea Island got off to a rocky start.
As Kirouac tried to make Wie one of the girls, the USGA announced that Wie had received an exemption from qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open. Making the timing even worse, this is the first year that all Curtis Cup players do not get a free pass to the biggest event in women's golf.
Kirouac told the rest of the team before Wie arrived from Hawaii.
``I wanted them to have a chance to come to grips with it,'' she said. ``Have I got some disappointed players? You bet. Have they got a right to be disappointed? You bet.''
The most sticky situation was Creamer, a 17-year-old with one year left in high school and one of the most accomplished American Junior Golf Association players ever. A tall blonde from Pleasanton, Calif., she already has developed a rivalry with Wie, even though Wie doesn't play AJGA events.
``I play with tons of junior golfers over the summer, and she's just another junior golfer,'' Creamer said last year at the U.S. Women's Open, after posting a better score while playing with Wie in the final stage of qualifying. ``I don't really see her as someone beyond me. I've played her twice and beat her both times.''
Kirouac put Creamer and Wie together on the first day of practice, and every time she drove by in a cart, both teenagers lit up the course with dynamic smiles.
Halfway through their training camp, everyone was geared toward the same goal: Winning the Curtis Cup.
As Creamer headed to the shops at Sea Island, Wie called out in a singsong voice, ``Have fun. Bye, princess.''
Both girls cracked up laughing.
``We're very close now,'' Creamer said. ``There's going to be that rivalry on the golf course because everyone is competitive. But I do consider her one of my close friends. We're going to be seeing a lot of each other.''
While the Americans have gelled nicely, the perception is different across the Atlantic.
Britain and Ireland captain Ada O'Sullivan made no secret about using Wie as a motivational tool for her team.
``There hasn't been a lot of talk amongst the girls about Michelle Wie,'' O'Sullivan told Golfweek magazine. ``It's me who has been bringing it up to them. She is my reverse trump card. I've been saying to them, 'Who would not like to play against Michelle Wie? And they have all said they would relish the chance to play against her.''
It is reminiscent of Gary Wolstenholme, a short-hitting amateur from England, beating Tiger Woods in the 1995 Walker Cup. A two-time British Amateur champion, Wolstenholme is best known for that moment.
But this American team is more than one player, and Kirouac said she would not hesitate to sit Wie in a singles match the first day. The format calls for three alternate-shot and six singles matches both days.
``They look at this team like this,'' she said, holding her arms up in the shape of a tower. ``They think if they can knock Michelle off, this whole team will crumble. They think without Michelle, we're nothing. They don't understand our depth. Michelle is like a shield out front, drawing all that flak. Everyone else is playing in relative anonymity behind her, but playing very, very well.''
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