It was a family vacation to Beijing, although she doesn't remember the year.
``I think I was 10 or 11,'' Wie said. ``It was right after I failed to qualify for the U.S. Women's Amateur.''
Excitement soon turned to fatigue, and when she stopped to rest, the girl who gets nervous in a three-story hotel made the mistake of looking down.
``You know how it has those towers?'' Wie said. ``Well, we reached the first tower, and I got tired and sat down. I turned around and it's like super high. I am so scared of heights, and I couldn't breathe.''
That's as far as she went. Ultimately, the short climb proved to be a longterm lesson, for it was one of the few times the 15-year-old golfer from Hawaii ever gave up.
``If I get afraid of failure,'' she says now, ``then I can't go any higher.''
It's hard to gauge how many towers Wie has reached in golf, although she is still climbing -- and she won't look back.
One was the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links that Wie won at age 13. Another was the 68 she shot at the Sony Open last year at 14, the lowest score ever by a female competing on the PGA Tour. She finished fourth at an LPGA major ('04 Kraft Nabisco) and tied for second on the LPGA Tour in January.
Then again, maybe that Public Links title is the only tower.
Some see her high finishes against women twice her age as achievement; others believe there is no greater experience than a room full of trophies. The only certainty is that her career path is unlike any other, which is why it gets so much scrutiny.
Wie just finished her sophomore year at Punahou School. Her summer plans include a long list of tournaments, but only two against amateurs, and only one of those against the men at the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
First up is the LPGA Championship, which starts Thursday at Bulle Rock north of Baltimore. It will be her first serious competition since she failed to get through men's U.S. Open local qualifying a month ago.
Critics say she needs to learn how to win by playing kids her own age, preferably the same gender.
Look what it did for 18-year-old Paula Creamer, they say. She spent her youth at a Florida golf academy, played sparingly against the pros while winning regularly on the junior circuit, then captured her first LPGA Tour event just five days before her high school graduation.
Then again, Michelle Wie is not Paula Creamer.
She's not Tiger Woods, either.
In many ways, her peculiar path was dictated by circumstances, some of which involve living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far removed from junior tours and strong competition.
By the time she was old enough to play in the American Junior Golf Association, she had already qualified for two LPGA Tour events at age 12, a feat so impressive that another LPGA event gave her an exemption.
``Traveling to an AJGA event costs the same as traveling to a LPGA event,'' Wie wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press the week of the Masters. ``If Bentley and Toyota cost the same, wouldn't you get the Bentley? I got the Bentley, and I do not regret my decision.''
Her only hope is that others will stop the back-seat driving.
``There's a lot of different ways to do stuff,'' Wie said in a telephone interview over the weekend as she took a break from practicing at Bulle Rock. ``The road can go left or it can go right. How do ever know which way to go? It obviously worked for her (Creamer). I couldn't play AJGA events because I was too young, so I did an LPGA qualifier. And once I started, I couldn't let go.''
As an 11-year-old child in the sixth grade, Wie played in Hawaii's premier event for female amateurs and won the Jennie K. Wilson Invitational by nine shots. A year later, she qualified to compete against Annika Sorenstam and Grace Park in the Takefugi Classic, missing the cut by three shots.
Bentley or Toyota?
Wie gets a rare shot to play all four LPGA majors this year.
There's also another stop on the PGA Tour at the John Deere Classic the first week in July, which is sure to do two things -- outrage someone for taking a spot in the field, and sell tickets.
Wie's idea is to gain experience for whenever she decides to turn pro.
``A lot of people have different opinions since I'm not going the traditional way,'' Wie said. ``But that's the way I've chosen to go. And I can't go back. It's not like I can wake up tomorrow morning and be 8 years old again.''
She also is perplexed to hear talk that her parents are the ones driving the car.
``It makes no sense to me, like I'm a slave and being forced to play,'' Wie said, her voice dripping with 10th-grade sarcasm. ``If my parents were forcing me to play golf, I'd be a pro at 10.''
A prodigious driver of the golf ball, Wie recently got her driver's permit and now is taking on the crowded H-1 freeway through Honolulu. She turns 16 in October, and like any teen, she can't wait to have her own car.
Bentley or Toyota?
``You're always hoping for the Bentley,'' she said with a laugh. ``But I just want a car.''
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.