Would everyone please calm down? Yes, a 13-year-old amateur from Hawaii, Michelle Wie, has burst onto the golf scene this year, finishing ninth in an LPGA major in March, winning the U.S. Women's Public Links Championship last month, competing against Annika Sorenstam & Co. at last week's LPGA stop in New Jersey. Yes, she's more accomplished at 13 than another golfing Mozart, Tiger Woods, was at that age. Yes, her stated goals are audacious and inspiring: to someday—eight years from now, when she's 21 and a college graduate—turn professional and become one of the dominant players in the game, first on the LPGA circuit, later on the PGA Tour. Yes, before that she'd like to play in the Masters, as an amateur.� Given all that talent and ambition, golf heads everywhere are frantically trying to figure out when Wie will really go pro, which brand of clubs and ball she'll play when she does, who will manage her and how many millions some corporation will guarantee her.� You gotta chill, folks. Because what Wie is doing right now—in the summer before she starts ninth grade at the private, $12,050-a-year Punahou School in Honolulu—is so extraordinary and exquisite that we should just enjoy her precociousness. A 13-year-old girl who hits her full shots as long and as well as any woman, including Sorenstam? It seems unreal.� Loading up at the dessert table in the dining room of the Marriott Seaview Resort near Atlantic City last Friday night, Wie looked almost like a typical teenager. Except that she was still wearing her golf shoes and cap from her first round of the LPGA ShopRite Classic. She's a golf nerd, all right. Just like Tiger.
On the practice tee she looks like nobody else. Wie is long and lean, nearly six feet tall, and her swing is one of the best in golf. On the range she can unload one 300-yard drive after another. It's only natural that the marketers are salivating: She's an A student, pretty, charming, and relaxed in interviews. One day, in all likelihood, she'll be an industry, as her idol Woods is today. But for now she's really just an amazing kid.
Wie's Public Links triumph made her the youngest person ever to win a USGA event in which adults compete. The victory inspired her father to dream up a lofty summer goal: the Michelle Wie USGA Grand Slam. The second leg comes this week, when Wie will play in the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge near Portland. Later this month she'll play in the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship in Fairfield, Conn. Then in early August she'll play in the U.S. Women's Amateur in Glad-wyne, Pa. Nobody has won those four USGA events in a single year. Nobody has played those four in a single year.
There is no nap time built into Wie's schedule. Before school begins she'll play in another LPGA event, in Ohio in mid-August, and later that month, thanks to an invitation from the Golf Channel, she'll be the only female in a Canadian Tour men's event, the Bay Mills Open in Brimley, Mich. In September, after a couple of weeks as a high schooler, Wie will travel to Boise, Idaho, to play on a sponsor's exemption in an event on the all-male Nationwide Tour, the PGA Tour's minor league. After that she'll return to Oregon for another LPGA event. In mid-October she'll go to South Korea—where both of her parents were born and where Michelle can show off her fluent Korean—for another LPGA tournament.
If it all sounds like too much, her father, B.J., a University of Hawaii transportation professor who doubles as Michelle's caddie, agrees. "Next summer we concentrate on one thing—winning the men's U.S. Public Links," he says. That's a men's event by tradition only, not by rule. The winner, by tradition, is invited to play in the Masters. Dad, do I call him Hootie or Mr. Johnson?
Wie is the only child of doting parents, both of whom, once low handicappers, gave up golf to devote themselves to their daughter's success. Michelle started hitting balls in earnest at age four. She plays year-round, although she takes a break from the game on her birthday, Oct. 11, and between Christmas and New Year's.
Her swing is a dream. Her backswing is superwide, like Davis Love's but longer. The downswing is art. Unlike Woods's, it's not a violent hit. No 150-pound golfer, male or female, has ever made hitting a 300-yard drive look so effortless. "You can't teach that rhythm," says Wie's teacher, Gary Gilchrist. "You're born with it."
Her mistakes come when she swings too easily, with wedges and, most notably, the putter, her least consistent club. "In ball striking she's already one of the top five out here," says Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, the French golfer who won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, an LPGA major, in March while playing the final round with Wie. "Her putting I don't know about. She makes a big demonstration when she misses. A professional does not do that. But she is a kid."
A very competitive kid. Last week at the short, lovely, old-school Bay Course at the Seaview Resort, Wie opened with an even-par 71, one behind Sorenstam and six shots behind the leaders. At her press conference afterward Wie was asked if she was happy with her play. "No," she answered. "Not really." Never mind that she was a teenager holding her own against the best women in the world. In Michelle Wie's mind, a score can always be lower.
There's a refreshing candor among the Wies. Describing debates with her caddie-father over club selection last Friday, Michelle said, "We were in different books. We were on different planets." Later B.J. was asked what he thought of the course. "Frankly?" he said. "I don't care for it. Too traditional. It doesn't inspire Michelle." That directness makes it credible when the Wies say Michelle will finish college before turning pro. Says B.J., "When teenagers make a lot of money, it doesn't seem to lead to happiness." Michelle adds, "I like what I'm doing because there is no pressure."