Wie In a Wonderful World All Her Own

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KAHUKU, Hawaii -- When Michelle Wie returns to high school Monday for her algebra and physics classes, she can tell her friends how she spent the weekend: She nearly won an LPGA tournament.

'She's an amazing player. There's no doubt about it,' winner Jennifer Rosales said. 'She's going to give us a lot of challenges and make us work harder.'

Wie, a 15-year-old sophomore, finished two strokes behind Rosales in the season-opening SBS Open on Saturday. In difficult conditions on her home island of Oahu, Wie was the only player to shoot under par for three rounds. She also was the lone amateur in the field.

Wie was trying to supplant Marlene Hagge as the youngest LPGA Tour winner. Hagge was 18 when she won the 1952 Sarasota Open.
 
Wie, who shared second place with Cristie Kerr, would have earned $78,787 were she not an amateur. When told what she might have earned, she said, 'that's not too much,' an assessment that should send chills down the spine of any future prom date.

'Well, I don't really feel like, 'Oh, I should've turned pro, darn it,' I'm just happy with my second-place finish,' she said. 'I like having a pretty carefree life right now, not having to think about if I don't make the cut that means I make no money.'

Wie has yet to win on the tour, but in 2004 she would have earned more than $250,000 in seven LPGA events, putting her in the top 50 on the money list. She had six top-20 finishes in seven LPGA events last year, including fifth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the tour's first major of the year. This was her best finish in 18 LPGA starts.

'She is a veteran at 15, if she can be called that,' Kerr said. 'She has an amazing game and is a real sweet girl.'

With companies like Nike and Adidas watching, Wie already is one of the world's most marketable golfers. She commands large galleries and has international appeal: young, talented, photogenic and bilingual. Wie is fluent is Korean and is taking Japanese classes.

'We have to be patient. We can't get too ahead of ourselves,' LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw said. 'I think what we have to look 25 years from now and look back on what she's accomplished, and not after any one week.
 
'She's still 15 years old and she's trying to do things that no other 15-year-old has done,' he added. 'That's certainly empowering all the young girls out there to say there's no limitations.'

Wie started the final round five strokes behind Rosales, then shot her third straight 2-under 70 to finish at 6-under 210. She didn't notice she was in contention until seeing her name on the leaderboard late in the day.

'I thought, 'Wow, that feels pretty good,'' she said.

Wie will play seven more LPGA events this year, including all four majors.

'I think my game got a lot more consistent,' she said. 'I shot what I wanted to, consistently under par. I just have to work on eliminating those stupid mistakes and making a lot more birdies.'

Wie began drawing national attention in 2002. A seventh-grader with braces, she became the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA event at age 12.

'I've grown a lot as a person and a golfer and I'm really proud of that,' she said.

She's still waiting to make the weekend field at a PGA Tour event. Wie missed the cut at the Sony Open last month. The previous year, Wie beat 47 men at the Sony but fell one shot short of qualifying for the last two rounds.

By not playing golfers her own age, Wie does not win often. Tiger Woods took notice of that, saying there is an 'art form to winning, and learning how to win different ways.'

'What she's doing might hurt her,' Woods said this year in Hawaii. 'But in the end, she might be so talented she might just win everything. And it might be a new way of doing it.'

Wie eventually plans to attend Stanford, where Woods spent a couple of years, and turn pro when she's ready. Her father, B.J. Wie, says money is not the issue. If that were the case, he said, she could have done so a year ago.

Votaw, who is leaving his job after the season, urges common sense in the tour's approach to Wie.

'My advice to whoever my successor is: You can't build on any one player,' he said. 'It's a kaleidoscope. It's a tapestry of colors. For the weight to any one person to be the savior, I think is a short shelf-life policy.'