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The New Buzzword Is Wie

June 26, 2003|THOMAS BONK

We've been hearing a lot about it lately in sports, that elusive certain something, where a "vacancy" sign pretty much slaps you down to the level of irrelevancy.

Olympia Fields didn't have it, at least until the last round, prompting critics to turn up their noses at the U.S. Open and turn off their televisions.

Experts hope the Lennox Lewis-Vitali Klitschko fight revives the heavyweight division, which they say doesn't have it.

Wimbledon may be something less than two weeks of splendor in the grass because there's none of it on the men's side.

We're talking about buzz. You've got buzz, you're fine, but no buzz, well, start packing your bags, loser.

All week long at Olympia Fields, discussions about the place ended like this: "No buzz." The heavyweight division has the same "no buzz" ailment. Wimbledon, too, might sadly be relegated to downright buzzlessness.

There may be no greater curse in sports. Love it or hate it, please just say it vibrates a little. In the meantime, buzz has rules. Do not forget that buzz is fickle. Even when the New York Yankees lose, there is still buzz. Serena Williams and Venus Williams can really bring it every time they step on the court. New buzz, please.

Tiger Woods earns high marks on the official Buzzometer, even when he's the subject of wandering debates about whether he's in a slump. Slump buzz always works.

This week, there's a good chance that the buzz business is getting itself a new poster kid. Buzz can fall and buzz can rise, but Michelle Wie is heading off the charts, buzz-wise.

The Wie World Tour continues this week at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway Township, N.J., where the 13-year-old amateur from Hawaii tees it up in her third LPGA event this year, all of them on the basis of sponsors' exemptions.

It should be an interesting week for the newest and youngest winner of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship. That's because Wie is teeing it up again in the same tournament as Annika Sorenstam, who is on a first-name basis with buzz because of her Colonial exploits.

There is heavy buzz for Sorenstam-Wie.

The last time they played in the same event was at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, where Sorenstam was second and Wie tied for ninth. Wie shot a third-round 66 at Mission Hills and tied the lowest round by an amateur in an LPGA major. Caroline Keggi did it in 1988 at the Dinah Shore when she was 22 and Carole Semple-Thompson did it when she was 46 at the 1994 U.S. Open.

Wie was the first eighth-grader to do it.

Wie is two for two in making cuts on the LPGA Tour. She also tied for 33rd at the Chick-fil-A, where the buzz was slight. But next week, the buzz gets bigger when Wie plays in the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge near Portland, Ore.

This will be a huge test for Wie because the USGA is far removed from the LPGA and doesn't set up its courses like room service. Tight fairways, rough and firm greens will make it difficult for everyone, including the girl who just graduated from the eighth grade at Punahou School in Honolulu.

No matter how she plays at the Open, Wie has already set her schedule to include three more LPGA events this year: the Jamie Farr Kroger, the Safeway and the Nine Bridges. Before that, she plays the U.S. Girls Junior in Fairfield, Conn., takes a week off, then plays the U.S. Women's Amateur at Philadelphia Country Club. Wie also intends to play a Nationwide Tour event against male professionals in Boise in September.

We can only imagine the buzz potential for that event.

While all this interest is spinning around Wie, her father seems to want to limit the buzz. B.J. Wie is a professor of transportation at the University of Hawaii and also caddies for Michelle. He insists there is no chance that she will turn pro until after she finishes college.

The LPGA prohibits players from joining the tour until they're 18, so Wie is going to have a lot of time on her hands to play even more golf and further inflate her buzz. On the course, there is no problem doing that, not when you're 6 feet tall and you can drive the ball 300 yards the way Wie can.

She already has an unofficial coach, Gary Gilchrist from David Leadbetter's golf school in Bradenton, Fla., and she might even play more men's professional events.

Dale Nagata, the general manager of Sony Hawaii, said three weeks ago there already have been discussions about inviting Wie to play in the 2004 Sony Open in Honolulu, which if it happens, will then officially be referred to as Buzz City.

In this place, the city limits are expanding.

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