Sun, Jan 11, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Michelle Wie continues to come of age amid legends

AP , KAPALUA, HAWAII

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 1.83m, 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 US 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.

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