Sony among Wie's big tests this week
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The 16-year-old phenom faces high school midterms and the PGA Tour.
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Michelle Wie is starting to feel the stress.
She has been a professional golfer for three months and already is worth more than some men who have been playing longer than she has been alive, with endorsement deals that could reach $10 million and more than $1 million for an appearance fee to play overseas.
She makes news wherever she goes.
In her professional debut at the Samsung World Championship, she was disqualified for taking a bad drop in the third round, an infraction that a magazine writer waited one day to point out to a rules official. Then at the Casio World Open in Japan, she bogeyed the last two holes to miss the cut by one shot.
But that's not what has her nerves a little frayed.
Like any other 16-year-old, Wie had to get through her semester exams in her junior year of high school.
"Oh my God, don't remind me," Wie said last week from Ko Olina Golf Club, where she took a break from studying to work on her golf game. "I have to take my quarter tests and my semester exams."
It started with a chapter test in Japanese on Tuesday. Chemistry and Japanese midterms, plus her quarterly test in math, is today. The midterm for math was on Thursday.
And then comes another big test.
Third shot at Sony Open
Wie will try for the fourth time to become the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to make the cut on the PGA Tour when she joins 143 men at the Sony Open.
Her legend took root at Waialae Country Club two years ago at age 14 when she shot 68 in the second round -- the lowest score by a female competing on a men's tour -- to miss the cut by one shot. Last year brought wind and not nearly as many putts made, and Wie shot 75-74 to miss the cut by seven shots.
Then came the John Deere Classic, where thousands of boisterous fans thought they would witness history until Wie made double bogey on her 16th hole and again narrowly missed the cut.
There is a sense the novelty is wearing off, and there might come a time when Wie playing on the PGA Tour attracts only passing interest.
But people still talk about it.
They still watch.
"I was on the opposite side of the golf course, and there's nobody out there watching us play golf," David Toms said of the John Deere Classic, where he tied for 40th that week. "You knew where she was the whole time. It was almost like a Tiger-type following. You know where she was on the golf course. That says a lot. I don't think that wears off until that goes away for some reason. I just don't see that happening any time soon."
Some see Wie as a work in progress, noting her steady improvement on the LPGA Tour (she finished in the top three in two majors last year) and how close she has come to making the cut against the men.
Others look at her trophy case, which has been empty since winning the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at age 13, making her the youngest winner of a USGA title with no age restrictions.
And there always will be those who wonder if Wie seriously thinks she can beat the guys.
"She's going to make a cut eventually," Mark Calcavecchia said. "She's never going to win, period. Maybe once she makes a cut, she'll forget about it. Should she play in Hawaii? Sure. I don't have a problem with her playing there. That's where she's from. I think she should try to win some LPGA tournaments first and go from there."
Wie embarks on what could be a fascinating season, her first full year as a pro. She has gone from making cuts to becoming a regular fixture on leaderboards on the LPGA Tour, with four top-three finishes in eight starts last year. She is adding even more length, and is capable of hitting shots few other women can imagine.
Swing coach David Leadbetter said Wie has been working with Paul Gagne, a physiologist who deals mostly with hockey players, to work on her upper-body strength. He believes a stronger Wie will lead to more length off the tee -- citing Annika Sorenstam as an example -- and allow her to get more balance in her swing.
She also is working on her putting, the one thing holding her back at this stage. It doesn't help that Wie lives in Hawaii, which has only one variety of grass on the greens.
"The thing she has over all the other girls is great shotmaking," Leadbetter said. "She can draw it, fade it, and around the green she has a tremendous variety of shots. Those girls are one dimensional. Obviously, that's why Annika enjoys playing with Tiger, because he helps her with the short game."
Wie played a practice round Tuesday with Sean O'Hair and Justin Rose, two other Leadbetter clients. Wie played the last two years with Ernie Els, picking up tips around the green.
"Playing PGA Tour events makes her better," Leadbetter said. "I think she gets psyched watching the guys and seeing their ability. It raises her level. It helps her up the ladder of improvement."
Winning is the next step against the women.
Playing four days is the next step against the men.
"This is the third one [at the Sony Open], and they expect me to make the cut," Wie said. "I expect myself to play better, but I don't feel any extra pressure. I have a goal in mind -- consistent, under-par rounds. A lot can happen in two days. Hopefully, everything will come together."
Her game steadily is improving. Her 6-foot frame -- she's been that tall since she was 13 -- is getting lean. The only noticeable difference is her age, although it still staggers some players on the PGA Tour that a teen not much older than their children can compete on such a stage.
"She's got a great talent," Jim Furyk said. "I can't think of a 16-year-old girl who can hit it like that. I'll go beyond that. I don't know too many 16-year-old boys that can go out there and play in a tour event, have that much composure, hit the ball that well. She's definitely one in a million, or one in a billion. That's going to attract attention."
Whatever happens, another big test awaits.
On the Tuesday after the Sony Open, Wie goes for her driver's license.
"I haven't even learned to parallel park yet," she said.