Wie's game showing loft

Golf: Though back in the pack at this week's event, 14-year-old Michelle Wie is front and center on the LPGA Tour, and she's ready to make her move.

Golf

May 07, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - A year ago, fans flocked to the LPGA Tour stop here at Kingsmill Resort hoping to get a glimpse of Annika Sorenstam. The world's best female golfer was preparing for her historic appearance later in the month at a PGA Tour event in Texas.

Sorenstam is back, but she is merely a sideshow in the mounting circus that has become Michelle Wie's life. The 14-year-old from Hawaii has gone from a 6-foot curiosity item to a legitimate contender after nearly making the cut at the PGA Tour's Sony Open earlier this year.

"I think I have enough experience right now and I think my game is almost there, too. I think I just want to win," Wie said at a packed news conference Wednesday. "Like the other tournaments, my goal was to make the cut, just to make a name for myself.

"Now, I have made enough cuts. I just want to win now."

Wie's pursuit of becoming the youngest winner in LPGA history and the first amateur to win an LPGA event since JoAnne Carner in 1969 will likely not happen this week. A 1-over-par 72 yesterday in the first round of the Michelob Ultra Open left Wie seven shots off the lead. It didn't leave her disappointed.

"It's only the first round, and I think I played pretty good today," said Wie, who stumbled early with bogeys on two of the first four holes and then made bogey on 17 after two straight birdies. "I didn't exactly meet my expectations, but I didn't really do bad. I didn't really fall short of it. So I think I'm in the hunt."

The expectations for Wie are enormous, and when that first win in a professional tournament happens, the pressure on Wie to turn pro will become more intense than it is now, with agents and representatives from companies such as Nike shadowing her every move.

This week, swing guru David Leadbetter joined one of his staff members, Gary Gilchrist, who has worked with Wie the past two years. B.J. Wie hired caddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan, who used to work for Tiger Woods and is waiting for Jim Furyk to recover from wrist surgery, to carry his daughter's bag.

"I thought pretty highly of her coming in," Cowan said after the round. "You don't come within a shot of making the cut at a PGA Tour event without having game. I felt like I was going to see something impressive, and I have."

Pro future beckons

Ever since she won last year's Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, becoming the youngest player to win an adult U.S. Golf Association event, the countdown has begun as to when Wie will turn pro. She can officially petition the LPGA when she turns 15 later this year, but most figure she will wait an additional year or two.

Wie acknowledges some of the projected endorsement deals - predictions are that she would make $100 million the minute she turns pro - are more than a little tempting.

"I really don't want to accept that money right now and then feel burdened and just, like, drop out of golf," Wie said. "I think big money should be handled by mature people, and right now I am a little bit immature for that money and I don't think I can know how to use that money."

Wie said Wednesday that she would still like to attend and graduate from Stanford, where Woods, her idol, went to school for two years before turning pro. Wie said she would like to study business and hopes someday to build a golf course development and design her own line of golf clothes.

For now, her income is limited to the bets she wins against her father and his friends. At the Sony Open in January in Honolulu, they were giving her $20 for each birdie she made, but she had to give them $20 back for each of her bogeys. When she plays with her father and two of his friends in a match, one of their scores has to beat hers.

"I like to put bets on the game to make it more fun," said Wie, who, as an amateur, is allowed to accept equipment from manufacturers as long as she doesn't get paid to endorse it. "I give him strokes, so it's pretty tough."

B.J. Wie said he understands what is out there for his daughter when she turns pro.

"It would be her money, not my money, and she's too young to spend the money," said B.J. Wie. "Even $1 million would be huge money. For her, winning $5 from my friends is huge money."

If anything, there is more pressure on her parents than on Wie. B.J. Wie said Wednesday that the family's modest lifestyle has allowed it to save up for the costs of traveling the world, which this year amounts to a reported $70,000.

A professor of transportation at the University of Hawaii, B.J. Wie has taken a one-year sabbatical from his job to travel with his daughter. His wife, Bo, a former South Korean amateur champion who works as a real estate agent, also attends all of her daughter's tournaments.

"I'm saving the receipts from all these trips," B.J. Wie joked. "When she turns pro, I'm going to give them to her."

His daughter almost seems a little disappointed that she hasn't won a professional event yet.

She also sounds 14 talking about it.

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