Long-Hitting Wie Latest Young Sensation at Kraft Nabisco

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Like many 13-year-olds, Michelle Wie is self-conscious about her braces and ill at ease when talking to adults.
 
When it comes to hitting the golf ball, though, Wie seems all grown up.
 
The Korean-American teenager with the big swing drew gasps from the galleries at the Kraft Nabisco tournament Thursday, pounding the ball more than 300 yards off the tee on some holes.
 
The rest of her game wasn't too bad, either, as Wie shot an even-par 72 in the first round of the LPGA Tour major championship.
 
``It was OK,'' Wie said. ``I can take it.''
 
The 6-foot Wie consistently hit the ball well past playing partners Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim, but it may have been her calm demeanor that was the most impressive thing about her major championship debut.
 
Even missing short birdie putts on the 16th and 17th holes didn't get her down.
 
``Tee to green was perfect,'' Wie said. ``Green to hole wasn't as good.''
 
Wie wasted no time showing off her long game, knocking her drive on the first hole 30 yards past Kim. On the second hole, a par-5 playing 504 yards, she was 50 yards past Kim and had only 185 yards to the green for her second shot.
 
The eighth-grader from Honolulu is well on her way to her goal for the week -- making the cut for the first time in an LPGA tournament.
 
``Just play even par or a little under par,'' Wie said. ``I don't want to be at the top, it puts too much pressure on myself.''
 
Wie played in three LPGA events as a 12-year-old last year, missing the cut in all three. She will play in six tournaments this year, the most allowed under a new LPGA regulation designed to keep too many young players from taking tournament spots.
 
Though she won't be eligible to play as a pro until 2008, Wie's long hitting ways are already well known among the women players.
 
``Wow, she's got some swing,'' Se Ri Pak said. ``It looks like she's got some game, too. I can't say exactly, but I can see that she's going to be a really good player.''
 
Wie's father, B.J. Wie, caddied for her as he usually does. Both the father, a university professor, and the daughter are on spring break.
 
``She was nervous but being nervous helps her most of the time because she can concentrate more,'' B.J. Wie said.
 
The elder Wie said his daughter hasn't been welcomed by all LPGA players, though he said no one has said anything negative to either him or her. He rejected the suggestion that perhaps his daughter was doing too much at too young an age.
 
``I don't think so. This is a great opportunity,'' he said. ``Why not take the opportunity?''
 
Wie's appearance at the Kraft Nabisco isn't all that unique. Aree and Naree Song both made their debut in this event at the age of 13 when it was known as the Nabisco Championship and they were known as the Wongluekiet twins.
 
The Songs are now 16, and Aree finished in the group before Wie on Thursday with a 72. Unlike three years ago, no one was there to interview either her or her sister, who shot a 78.
 
Wie, meanwhile, seemed to handle the attention well enough for someone who is just as concerned with getting her braces off as she is with hitting her drives long and straight.
 
She was supposed to have them taken off before the tournament, but broke a bracket and now has to wait.
 
``I hope so,'' she said when asked if they were going to come off soon.
 
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