Like Her or Not Wie Ready to Play


RANCHO MIRAGE, Cal. - For the moment, she was simply Michelle Wie, full-time high school student, part-time golfer. It was Monday at the Kraft-Nabisco Championship, and she was finishing up a practice round on No. 18 at the Mission Hills golf course.
No more than 10 people were there when she came off the green. Her coach, David Leadbetter, was there with her, as was her father. But the throngs of the curious, the well-wishers and the gawkers, were absent. It was Michelle and the golf course.
Tuesday was different. By Tuesday, the spectators had begun to arrive en masse. She was a curiosity once again, a 6-foot-1 16-year-old with the size-10 shoe who had a thousand people craning their necks to get a glimpse of her and her well-oiled swing. She no longer was just a high school kid. She was Michelle Wie from Hawaii, Kraft Nabisco entrant, a professional, a lightning rod of public focus who is at the same admired and loathed.
Admired, simply because some people admire a teen-ager who can do such wonderful things to a golf ball. Loathed, because she dares at times to play in mens tournaments. And loathed, because there are many people who think that a high school kid has no business playing in professional events, be it against men OR women.
Wie has learned this, of course, at her young age. And, like the proverbial duck, she has learned to let it slide off her back. She has goals in mind, things she wants to do, mountains she wants to conquer, and she is determined to do those things, whatever anyone thinks of her.
Everyone has a right to say whatever they want to say, she said again Tuesday. Everyone should have that right.
Does she ever have to bite her tongue to refrain from answering her critics? No, not really, she said, kidding just a little bit. Im not trying to bite my tongue ' that would hurt. Im just out here telling my story.
The women of the LPGA happen to agree with her. If she can compete against the men, then she should.
She's proven that she can compete with the best women golfers in the world, says veteran Jill McGill, and if she feels as though her goal is to play against the men and play on the PGA TOUR, who am I to say no?
If that's what you want to do, I wish her the best of luck. I hope she does accomplish it, because I think that she does nothing but good things not only for the women, but also for the men. I think it draws more attention to them. I think it draws a lot of attention to our tour. And I get a little tired of people saying, Oh, you know, her aspirations are too high.
Wie hasnt been seen for six weeks, since she came in third in the Fields Open. Since then she has just been a student, a junior in high school in Honolulu. Thats the price one pays when one tries to eke out a few pro events amongst long periods of doing what most 16-year-olds do ' being a typical teen-ager.
I try to play more rounds (when home in Hawaii), she says. I act like Im in a tournament. OK, this is the first round, this is the second round. I try to get into a rhythm.
But I feel Ive been doing a lot of good quality practice my off-season. But Ive been going to school, Ive been studying really hard, unfortunately, and just having a regular life. And I think Ive been having a lot of fun doing that.
Time, of course, is limited when she plays these make-believe rounds in make-believe tournaments. She has to squeeze in a full tournament in only the four hours she has before it gets dark. And that is a real challenge.
For instance, I usually play two balls, she explained her practices. So I play 36 holes in 18 holes, because I dont have that much time. So Ill shoot like 12-under in two rounds. And Im like on the l8th green and Im at 11-under and Ill like putt for birdie. And thats how Im training myself.
The make-believe tournaments, of course, can never approximate real competition. The rest of the LPGA can be in California or Florida or Arizona playing a real tournament course. Wie has to get her competition, by and large, from these imaginary opponents.
Obviously, its very different because its not tournament conditions, says Wie. Its just regular play conditions. But the greens ' Ive been practicing a lot at Ko Olina (where the LPGA plays a tournament). I am a member at Waialae (home of a PGA Tour event). The greens are fabulous. So, Ive been practicing a lot more that I have in a long time.
Wie is a professional now ' she turned pro at the end of last year and now gets to earn paychecks. But she says many of the people she knows were not aware she hadnt already turned professional.
No one at school really knew the difference between a professional and an amateur, said Wie, laughing. Theyre like, What? You just turned pro? I thought you were already a pro.
And Im like, No, I was an amateur. People really dont know the difference.
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