Michelle Wie has sights set high
Like most other 14-year-old girls, Michelle Wie listens to underground music, watches the Disney Channel and loves to go shopping. Give her some good news, she bounces on her toes, taps her hands together and smiles wide enough to show her retainer.
But how many other ninth-grade girls can hit a golf ball 300 yards?
Tom Lehman played with her in a junior pro-am two years ago and thought her swing compared so favorably to Ernie Els that he called her the ``Big Wiesy.''
``She probably has one of the best golf swings I've ever seen, period,'' Davis Love III said. ``She's got a lot going for her. Plus, she's tall and strong. No telling what she's going to do when she gets a little older.''
The PGA Tour is about to get a sneak preview.
Wie, who played in the final group of an LPGA Tour major last year and twice teed it up against the men on developmental tours, takes her awesome potential to the highest level next week when she plays in the Sony Open.
And she's not treating this like recess at Punahou School.
``It will be really sad if I mess up,'' Wie said. ``I really want to make the cut, no matter what. Because I think I can. I think I should.''
A slender 6-footer, Wie looks older than her 14 years. She is believed to be the youngest player ever on the PGA Tour, and that's what makes her appearance at Waialae Country Club so compelling.
It's not just her gender -- Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial was the first woman in 58 years on the PGA Tour, and six other women played against the men last year.
It's her age.
While she is playing the Sony Open against Els, Love and Vijay Singh, her classmates at Punahou School will be taking their final exams (Wie took all her exams -- except Social Studies -- last week).
``I wanted to get a spot in the Greater Seattle Junior when I was 14,'' Fred Couples said.
``Can you imagine?'' Els said. ``I played my first British Open at 19, and I was way out of my place. Playing on Tour at 14, it's a hell of an achievement.''
Not even Sorenstam can appreciate what Wie will face at the Sony Open.
Sorenstam already had won an NCAA title, more than 40 times on the LPGA Tour, four majors and played on four Solheim Cup teams when she accepted an invitation to the Colonial.
``I thought I had done everything, and it was tough,'' Sorenstam said of the Colonial, where she missed the cut by five shots. ``If she's just going there to learn, she's going to learn a lot. She's jumping into the lion's pit, and she's got to deal with it.''
Unlike Sorenstam, who said the Colonial was a one-time challenge, Wie views the Sony as only the start.
She tried to qualify for the Sony Open last year, but her 73 was off by six shots. For the last two years, she has talked about wanting to play both tours -- PGA and LPGA -- and some day in the Masters.
``If I keep on working, and keep improving every year, I think I can get that high,'' she said.
The Sony Open gave her a sponsor's exemption after a whirlwind season.
Wie played seven times on the LPGA Tour, missing the cut only once. She missed the cut on the Canadian Tour and Nationwide Tour, and her only victory in any event came at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, making her the youngest winner of a USGA event for grown-ups.
She has big dreams for the Sony Open and her career.
``Keeping the goal high is our family policy,'' said her father, B.J. Wie.
When she was 7 and just starting to play golf, her father asked Wie to watch the end of the '97 Masters, where Tiger Woods won by 12 shots.
``I saw him walk down the fairway of Augusta,'' Wie said. ``My dad was a really big fan of Tiger. He'd say, 'Watch how he swings.' He put posters from Golf Digest all over my room. My whole room was filled with Tiger, Tiger. I get mad at my dad because my dad doesn't have a picture of ME in his wallet. He has two pictures of Tiger.''
B.J. Wie, a transportation professor at the University of Hawaii, pulled out his wallet and showed the only two pictures he carries. One of them is Woods at the top of his backswing, the other is Woods at the end of his swing.
``I show them to her all the time,'' he said with a smile.
Wie already has had a Tigeresque career, minus the victories.
At age 10, she shot a 9-under-par 64 on her home course, Olomana Golf Links. Later that year, she became the youngest player to qualify for the Women's Amateur Public Links, losing in the first round.
In 2001, at the ripe age of 11, she advanced to the third round of the WAPL by beating current U.S. Women's Open champion Hilary Lunke.
For all her experience, one thing Wie doesn't have is a lot of victories.
That's what raises eyebrows among some PGA Tour players.
Woods met Wie for the first time during the pro-am round at the Mercedes Championships.
``I didn't realize she was taller than I am,'' he cracked.
Woods thinks the experience will be invaluable, but there is no substitute for winning.
``I learned the art of winning,'' Woods said. ``(Phil) Mickelson did the same thing. He won at every level. When he came out here, he knew he could win. I felt the same way.''
Singh predicted stardom for Wie last year during the Pro-Junior event at the Sony Open. Then again, he had no idea she would be taking such big steps so quickly.
``You put young kids out there to learn how to win golf tournaments,'' Singh said. ``For Michelle, she's not winning. It's always a negative when you don't win. She's not going to do that playing against the men.''
B.J. Wie considers the Sony Open an opportunity that cannot be ignored. His philosophy: The only way to get better is to play against the best.
He thinks his daughter can make the cut, and has nothing to lose.
``She's competing with PGA players, the best players in the world,'' B.J. Wie said. ``If she doesn't make the cut, that's natural. She's competing with Ernie Els. There's no way she can beat Ernie Els. But she will meet the best players in the world, have a practice round with Ernie Els. What can you ask more than that?''
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