Course work

Michelle Wie is glad to be back playing golf, but she's also looking forward to college life

May 30, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. -- This might be Annika Sorenstam's tournament, but the world of women's golf still seems to revolve around Michelle Wie.

Because Wie was sidelined for nearly five months because of a reported wrist injury, her presence this week in the Ginn Tribute brought reporters who normally wouldn't be here outside Charleston for the new LPGA tournament officially hosted by Sorenstam, herself coming back from injury after a two-month layoff.

While Wie denied that her absence from competitive golf was due as much to burnout as bum wrists, the 17-year-old prodigy from Hawaii acknowledged at a news conference yesterday that the time away helped her become more passionate about her profession.

"I realized what life was like without golf and truthfully, it kind of [stinks]," Wie said. "I didn't really like it. I don't think burnout is an issue. Before I was like, I don't want to practice, I don't want to work out and then I'm sitting on my butt all day long watching TV. I was like, I want to practice, I want to go and work out. It was truly a blessing in disguise because it put things into perspective. It gave me a reality check."

Here is another reality check: It has been four years since Wie won her last tournament, the Women's Amateur Public Links Championship. That was the event that propelled Wie to stardom, eventually led to her turning pro at age 16 and signing contracts with Nike and Sony worth more than $10 million a year.

Not that Wie hasn't lived up to much of the hype. As an amateur, she finished second to Sorenstam in the 2005 LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, where she will return next week after finishing tied for fifth last year. She also finished tied for third in two majors last year, the Kraft Nabisco and U.S. Women's Open.

As much as Wie is looking forward to her first professional victory, wherever it may come, she seems to be even more excited about going off to college in a few months. Wie will attend Stanford, the same university where Tiger Woods went for two years before turning pro.

"I am looking forward to having the freedom of a college student," said Wie, who plans to live in a dormitory with a roommate. "I think college is going to add to my life in a way that high school didn't. It forces me to have a life outside of golf. I won't be thinking golf 24-7, so I think it's going to be a forced break for me."

Aree Song, who along with her twin sister, Naree, was hyped as a junior golfer in much the same way as Wie, said recently that she regretted not going to college after turning pro shortly before her 18th birthday. Now in her fourth year on the LPGA Tour, Song is finally starting to get comfortable.

"I've enjoyed myself a lot more on the golf course this year than I did the first three seasons," said Song, 21, who finished second in the 2004 Kraft Nabisco but hasn't come that close to winning since. "It feels more like golf now and less like working."

Song admits that she doesn't know Wie that well, but sees a similar pattern with the amount of parental control.

"I think it's important for parents to sort of let your child go a little bit," Song said. "You can bring them up and teach them the ropes, but there's a certain point where you've just got to sit back and watch them fall down and get back up. I think that's the best way for them to learn."

Asked if her father, B.J., and mother, Bo, are going to move with their only child to Palo Alto, Calif., Wie said with a smile: "We're still negotiating."

Nor has Wie figured out the rest of her 2007 golf schedule, but she did reconfirm her plans to play in another men's event, the John Deere Classic in July. It was there last year that Wie withdrew during the middle of the second round and went to a local hospital suffering from heat exhaustion.

"I think that course owes me a lot of strokes actually," Wie said yesterday, unaware of her play on words.

Wie said that she will continue playing against the men despite the fact that her longtime coach, David Leadbetter, said she will not play men's events this year.

"I learn so much playing with the men," said Wie, who is 0-for-7 in making the cut at PGA Tour events but finished tied for 35th at a 2006 tournament in Japan. "They play a different kind of game than the women."

By the end of last year, Wie wasn't playing well against men or women. In her final tournament of the year, Wie finished 17th out of 20 players in the LPGA's Samsung World Championship in October.

Can she be competitive this week?

"Of course I have expectations but I'm just grateful to be out here again," she said. "I'm just so grateful that my wrists are better and I can actually hit a golf ball and be at this tournament. My expectation is to play well. I'm not really sure how well I will play because I've been out so long."

Wie declined to discuss the injury, which reportedly occurred while she was jogging.

"It's all better now and I don't think talking about the injury will help me or anyone," said Wie, who had tape on both wrists yesterday.

She would rather talk about the senior prom she was able to attend -- "My date was a professional golfer. Her name was Michelle Wie," she said -- as well as the graduation ceremonies she will miss this weekend back home.

"They were basically like, `We have good news and bad news,'" Wie said of her graduation from the Punahou School in Honolulu. "`The good news is that you survived high school and you're graduating, and the bad news is that you won't be able to go to graduation.' I knew for over a year that I wasn't going."

Wie said she might be there in more than just spirit with her friends.

"They're going to try to sneak in a full-size cardboard picture of me," Wie said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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