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Michelle Wie displays new maturity

BILL DWYRE

The golfer and Stanford student who was pushed into the spotlight because of her golf swing when she was 10 years old will be 21 in three weeks.

September 20, 2010|Bill Dwyre

Wanna feel old? Ponder this: Michelle Wie will turn 21 in three weeks.

We remember her as the little girl from Hawaii who started getting headlines when she was 10 and actually winning local tournaments about the same time. So much for memories. On Oct. 11 she can have her first legal beer.

No question she can afford it. She has made millions, some of it even on the golf course.

You remember the story. When she started out, most girls her age were probably still playing with dolls. Wie, enabled by parents and encouraged by marketing firms, brand-builders and corporate opportunists, opened a bank account.

The world watched and wondered how this would turn out. She was tall and talented and as pretty as her golf swing. She could hit it a mile and look good doing so. It was a new American dream — fame and fortune before algebra.

The reality was that she couldn't play, at least not on the level of the seasoned female pros and certainly not to where she would storm the tour as soon as she was eligible and become the distaff Tiger Woods. After those booming drives, there was the need for second shots and clutch putts. Those came harder.

Everybody should have known that and left her alone. But too often the noise of hype drowns out the need for perspective.

For awhile, we were romanced by her presence in men's tour events. People who ran PGA Tour events wanted to sell tickets, market products and get Internet attention, and they didn't mind doing so on the back of a teenager, especially one whose entourage had deposit slips in their pockets. She was given wild-card entries.

The possible imagery was always a hoot: Ladies and Gentlemen, on the first tee, Michelle Wie and John Daly.

Daly: "Want a beer, kid?"

The media of give-me-titillation-rather-than-news — about 90% of all media now — slopped it up. She made millions just to show up. She also never made a cut.

Is this a great country, or what?

Now, time has passed. A story that could have ended badly looks as if it won't. Psychologists may have to revisit previous theories. Perhaps a lost childhood can be overcome.

Wie walked into a big room Saturday at the Pacific Palms Resort in the city of Industry. She wasn't there because she wanted to be, of course, and the usual cadre of sponsors, tour officials and corporate types were along. But this felt different. It wasn't Michelle Wie being dragged along and hovered over. It was Michelle Wie, accompanied by some people. The body language was telling. It was a subtle difference.

She was there because one of her main sponsors, Kia Motors, was announcing it would move its LPGA event from La Costa to Pacific Palms, home of the Eisenhower and Zaharias Courses. La Costa can't hold the event in 2011 because it is redoing its 36-hole layout.

The Kia Classic, March 21-27, will bring the LPGA back to Los Angeles for the first time since 2005, when the women struggled through six-hour rounds at the difficult Trump National in Palos Verdes. It will also be the first LPGA return since 1982 to the former Industry Hills, where the tour players found the Ike course nearly impossible and said no mas. The Pacific Palms layout has been extensively renovated and is playable now.

Wie didn't make a speech. She answered several scripted questions. But she also sat down for about five minutes with members of the press and new maturity was apparent. The Valley girl is still there — "like, you know, I mean, like" — but the previous distant, bored looks were replaced by eye contact, depth and even humor.

Life is good. She has won twice on the LPGA Tour and was on her way back to Stanford, where she matriculates for about half a year in the two quarters that the tour is most quiet.

"It's nice to win tournaments," she said. "I was sitting there when they were introducing me and they said, 'Two-time winner,' and I was looking around, wondering who that was. Then, I thought, oh, that's me."

College has suited her well. Her major is communications, but not the kind her occasional tormentors — the people sitting around her during the interview —- took in school.

"I'm focused more on the new digital media," she said. "I like the psychology part of that."

She said she likes that many Stanford students seem to have no idea who she is.

"I showed my best friend a golf tee one time," Wie said, "and she had no idea what that was. I like that."

She also is aware of how time flies.

"I was on the driving range at the [women's] U.S. Open," she said, "and there were girls down there getting ready to play who were six years younger than me. Six years younger? Can you imagine that?"

No, we can't. Nor do we want to.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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