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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

Wie fires first-round 72

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

WAIKOLOA, Hawai'i —Michelle Wie's first steps on the LPGA tour were anything but tiny and tentative. What do you expect from a 12-year-old with size-10 feet?

Twelve-year-old Michelle Wie tees off on the 15th hole during the opening round of the Takefuji Classic at the Waikoloa Beach Course. Wie shot a 2-over-par 72.

Associated Press

With another brilliant Big Island sunset on her right and an awed gallery on her left, Wie closed with a 2-over-par 72 in yesterday's first round of the LPGA Takefuji Classic at Waikoloa Beach Course. The Punahou seventh-grader with the infinite golf future is nine shots off Lorie Kane's lead, but hardly discouraged.

"It was fun," Wie said. "I hit the ball really good today, but I just hit it too long. I putted good, but when I thought it would go right it went left. I'm not really used to fast greens."

Wie is the youngest ever to Monday qualify for an LPGA event. She spent the afternoon 30 yards ahead of playing partners Shiho Katano, a Japanese pro, and Jamie Hullett, a 26-year-old who joined the tour in 1999.

"She is amazing," said Hullett, who, at 5 feet 2, 100 pounds is eight inches and 60 pounds smaller than Wie. "The golf obviously, but also just the way she carries herself. She's very mature, very at-home, a lot of fun to play with.

"I kept forgetting she was 12. It was neat. I didn't know exactly how it would be to play with a 12-year-old, but ... I really enjoyed it."

Wie said her focus was to believe she was back at Olomana Golf Links, her home course where she works with Casey Nakama — her caddy this week. It almost worked. "Just different greens," Wie said with a shrug.

It was nothing like her qualifying round Monday, where huge gusts of wind blew nine drives into Waikoloa's never-never land. Wie survived 10 penalty shots to qualify with Sally Soranaka, another Honolulu amateur who was the only qualifier to break 80. Soranaka, who was home-schooled and now works with Hall of Famer Carol Mann in Texas, shot 76.

"Not very good," said Soranaka, who won the Hawai'i State Open late last year and followed up with a T15 finish at the Futures Qualifying school that gives her exempt status this year. "Tomorrow I've got to get more shots to the green."

But, at 17, Soranaka and all the other "kids" that make up the LPGA's next generation might as well be on the senior tour next to Wie. The golfer with braces on her teeth and homework on her mind has a swing so fluid and powerful Tom Lehman calls her "The Big Wiesy," a comparison to Ernie "Big Easy" Els. Wie's low round is a 64 at Olomana. It is a number that boggles Annika Sorenstam's mind.

"When I started playing golf I was 12, but I had about a 63 handicap," Sorenstam said. "My advice for her would be to come out here and have fun and enjoy her time out there. Obviously, she is very talented and I would tell her to have a good time, not rush it."

Sorenstam's peers — and Wie's "big sisters" — are just as encouraging.

"I think it's awesome," Liselotte Neumann said. "I can't believe she's 12 though. She doesn't look like any 12-year-old. She's good for the tournament. It's great to have her here."

"Good for her," added Janice Moodie. "I have played with the Wongluekiet twins (14) and I also played with Morgan Pressel (13) at the Open last year. Why not play? Get all the experience you can at that age. I wish that I had been able to do that at their age. I don't think they should turn pro or anything, but I don't have any problem with them playing."

What is most compelling though, is how well they play. Wie won two of the three Hawai'i women's majors last year at the age of 11, and advanced to the third round of the U.S. Women's Public Links, a year after becoming the youngest to qualify for the national event. She was also the first female to qualify for the Manoa Cup and play in the Hawai'i Pearl Open. She would be the youngest to make an LPGA cut if she survives today, breaking Aree Wongluekiet's record by a year.

Nakama doesn't put it past her.

"At 12 years old, she hasn't seen enough greens at this pace," he said yesterday. "Even if I make the reads for her she has to feel comfortable with her putter. We just have to wait for her green-reading skills to catch up because her ball-striking skills are just unreal.

"It's kind of scary to imagine what's going to happen. She could be unbelievable. It's just a patience kind of thing."