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GOLF

Michelle Wie is more than a student of the game

Teenager will be trying for that elusive first pro victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

April 02, 2009|Mark Medina

Michelle Wie says she has stopped dwelling on the past.

She's satisfied with another passing quarter at Stanford: A's and Bs in engineering, neuroscience, art and Korean drama. Wie will find out soon if her report card as an LPGA Tour pro warrants a spot on the refrigerator.

"I'm very happy about it," Wie said of her grades.

She spoke vaguely about her success at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, including an eight-under-par finish in the tour qualifying sectionals in September and three top-10 performances at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Instead, Wie said she and caddie Tim Vickers mapped out the 18th green, including Poppie's Pond, so she could jump in the deepest part if she wins this year's tournament.

"It'll probably turn out to be a really ugly one," said Wie, whose first-round tee time is 8:01 a.m. today at the 10th hole of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. "But I don't really care as long as I get to."

Wie declined to elaborate when asked if she would have done anything differently earlier in her career, when she was deemed a child prodigy who entered her first LPGA event as a seventh-grader.

She said she regretted the wrist injury that affected her game much of the last two years. But Wie, 19, wouldn't delve into any of the controversies that have marked her career: accusations of withdrawing from an event simply to avoid losing playing privileges for a poor score, her shuffling of caddies and agents, poor performances in men's events and what some have deemed inappropriate clothing.

Wie said her past meant little today. "You can't change it," she said. "All I want to do is focus on the present."

Wie's present says this: She is competing in today's Kraft Nabisco Championship as a member of the tour thanks to qualifying school and a second-place finish in February at the SBC Open.

Because Wie hasn't won a tournament since the 2003 U.S. Women's Public Links, winning her first major would be a big step.

After having three agents with the William Morris Agency, the agency recently parted ways with Wie, said a source close to the situation who wasn't authorized to comment on the record. With Wie recently signing with International Management Group, Clarke Jones, IMG's senior vice president and global director of golf clients, hopes their involvement will help Wie "achieve some of the things she wants to achieve."

"Michelle Wie wants to be a champion golfer," Jones said. "At the end of the day, the measuring stick on a professional golfer is major championships."

Wie has various qualities, Jones argues, that still make her a "worldwide recognizable golfer" -- her Korean background, her age, her looks and her talent.

And, of course, her past.

"We need controversy in order to have something to rise above," veteran pro Christina Kim said. "She has the potential to put a mark in history in more ways than just by swinging the golf club."

First things first: Wie is looking to rebound from last week, where she finished 57th in the J Golf Phoenix International.

"Obviously last week wasn't my greatest week, but I feel like I learned a lot," Wie said.

Even as Wie appears ready for a new beginning, some things remain in flux.

Wie's father, B.J., and mother, Bo -- often seen as overly protective of and involved with Wie -- didn't attend her practice round earlier this week. That doesn't mean the tide has completely shifted.

"They're going to be parents, but they're obviously also a very big part of my game as well because they've seen me play all my life," Wie said.

Wie's parents showed signs of their involvement in small ways when she talked with reporters. While Wie flipped through her cellphone before her news conference, her mother asked if she wanted her to hold the phone once the conference began. After Wie signed autographs for 10 kids outside the media center, her father motioned her over and told her to "come this way."

"B.J. and Bo should be commended for where Michelle Wie is today," Jones said. "We're going to make decisions together."

Wie's present success would also provide a boon for the LPGA.

"Whether it's negative or whatever it has been about her, especially because she's done so well, her play here has launched her into a larger celebrity in the realm of golf," said Gabe Codding, business manager of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. "With that, she gained a large following."

Wie says she also doesn't dwell on expectations.

"I've stopped worrying about things that I can't have any control over," she said. "All I can control is how I play and how hard I try."

--

mark.medina@latimes.com

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