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GOLF THOMAS BONK

She's Not Even Close to Shooting Her Age

March 30, 2003|THOMAS BONK

Now we know what Michelle Wie does in her spare time. She lies in bed and watches whatever is on television. We already know what the 13-year-old does on the golf course. She tears it up.

Wie is in third place with one round left in the LPGA's first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Rancho Mirage.

What she did Saturday at Mission Hills was shoot a 66 and tie the lowest round by an amateur in an LPGA major.

Let's put this in perspective. Caroline Keggi did it at the Nabisco Dinah Shore in 1988 when she was 22 and Carole Semple-Thompson did it at the 1994 U.S. Open when she was 46.

However, this is the first time it has been done by an eighth-grader.

Wie's father says Michelle can win today.

"Why not?" B.J. Wie said.

All she needs to do is repeat Saturday's round. And after her six-birdie, no-bogey breeze, who's to say she can't?

Even Michelle had to admit she's surprised how well she has played through three rounds. It's a stunning achievement for Wie, all right, but what does it say about the LPGA when a 13-year-old plays better than 97 of the 99 players who entered this major championship?

It's not Wie's fault that she's showing up most of the best female pros in the world. All she wants to do is play a little golf and have an answer for her friends back home in Honolulu when school starts Tuesday and they ask what she did over the spring break. They don't follow golf on TV, she said.

It's clear that Wie is wise beyond her years and might even have the game to back it up. For instance, the par-four 16th is a dogleg right. Wie chose a more direct approach, blasting a drive over a 100-foot eucalyptus tree at the right corner. Her drive was estimated at 310 yards.

At the 526-yard 18th, Wie drove over a corner of the lake on the left, her target between two palm trees, and had 225 yards left to the pin. After a drive that measured 301 yards, she played it safe, laid up and just missed a six-footer for birdie.

We know she has smarts and game, which comes as no surprise to her instructor. Gary Gilchrist of the Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla., remembers the first time he saw Wie swing in Hawaii last year.

"I was in shock," he said.

No one should be now, not after the way Wie has handled the pressure of her first major played on a difficult course where 10 over par was the cut line.

Gilchrist admires Wie's composure, her focus, and in all probability, the financial windfall should she become a full-time paying client. After all, it's still a business, even if it's about a 13-year-old whose next goal is to play on her high school team next year.

Also, she needs to study hard because she's taking honors courses in algebra, biology and Chinese.

Wie wants to try to qualify to play the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Junior Amateur, the U.S. Public Links and the U.S. Open. She wouldn't mind trying to qualify for the British Open, but she doesn't have a passport.

Once Wie finishes high school, her next move is set. She's going to college, she hopes it's Stanford, and B.J. says Michelle will stay for four years. That way she can tell her children how important school is, says B.J.

Meanwhile, B.J. says it's important to allow Michelle to grow up on her own timeline. She is mature on the golf course, but different at home, he says. In her house, Michelle acts like a 6-year-old sometimes and, he says, "Her mind is very young." An only child, Michelle is comfortable sleeping in the same room as her parents.

This week, she is sharing a king-sized bed with both her father and mother, according to B.J., who said he usually winds up sleeping on the floor.

And when she tees it up today, Michelle will share the last group with leader Patricia Meunier-Lebouc and Annika Sorenstam. Wie says she doesn't expect to feel any pressure.

What she has to do is simply play golf, she said, then started breaking down that task into such elements as hitting the ball well, putting well, chipping well and everything else, which must be the catchall element.

It is, she said, just a game.

Fair enough. It certainly has been child's play this week.

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