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She's Not Simply Tagging Along at 14

March 28, 2004|THOMAS BONK

The round, plastic identification tag on Michelle Wie's bag is a simple one, with these words printed on it:

2003 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship.

Michelle Wie.

Contestant.

We already know that last June at age 13, Wie became the youngest winner in the 27-year history of the women's Public Links.

And now we know she has a chance today to not only get a new bag tag at the Kraft Nabisco with a new championship title, but to also make history one more time.

At 14, she can become the youngest player to win an LPGA tournament. Marlene Hagge was 18 in 1952 when she won at Sarasota. The youngest to win a major was Sandra Post, who was 20 when she came through at the 1968 LPGA Championship.

The question is whether somebody who knows all about SpongeBob SquarePants knows enough to win an LPGA major.

The answer is, we'll find out today.

Chances are it won't have anything to do with her knowledge of television trivia and everything to do with how she controls herself on the rugged layout at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.

Wie will begin the final day only two shots behind leaders Grace Park and Aree Song after a third-round 69 that could have been better had she been able to avoid a couple of errant shots such as that one at the ninth hole. Wie mis-hit a wedge with her third shot and sent the ball rattling off a trash can.

That totally freaked her out, Wie said. In fact, she was still shivering hours later when she recalled that noise of golf ball hitting trash can, which she said sounded like bones breaking.

Meanwhile, Wie's caddie, Bobby Verwey, said he has never seen anything like her concentration, which is an interesting statement because he also caddies for Gary Player.

Verwey said that Wie was in the zone. Whether that sounds like records breaking remains to be seen.

But there clearly is some kind of magic sprinkled inside Wie's bag, where her putter is enveloped in a light green cover decorated with hula girls in grass skirts.

As at almost all major championships, the player who putts the best will decide this one, and while Wie's short game is greatly improved over last year, she still must roll the ball even better if she is going to set the golf world on its ear today with a victory.

Wie had a lot on her mind Saturday after a two-putt par to finish her round. She signed her scorecard, then emerged from the trailer with three cans of soda, which she passed out to her aunt, Vivian, and her two cousins, Lynn and Jean, who live in Cerritos.

There were a lot of relatives on hand, including her mother, Bo, and father, B.J., as usual. But there was also the Cerritos group, along with Vivian's husband, Dean, and even Bo's uncle from Rancho Cucamonga.

The entire clan waited patiently for Michelle to sign autographs, conduct a television interview, spend some time in the ABC trailer, and then go through another interview in the media tent.

It's all in a day's work for the 14-year-old cousin. Lynn said she and Jean play reed instruments, not golf. They seemed content to let Michelle handle that activity on her own.

Last year when she tied for ninth here, Wie said she didn't really have a goal in mind before the tournament. This year, it's different. She said she wants to win, or at least finish in the top five.

It would be hard to find someone who didn't think she could do it. Whether that's an unrealistic goal is no longer even an issue, despite her age. As Gary Gilchrist, her swing coach, has said, Wie would be ready to win on the LPGA Tour if she turned pro right away, something she said she won't do until at least 18.

The consensus is that she can compete and she can win right now. It might not be today, but that day is coming, and probably a whole lot sooner than anyone expected.

The bag tag and the club cover with the hula girls on it are on standby.

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