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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2003

Wie exemption pays off big for youngster, LPGA

 •  No trophy after getting third ace
 •  Holes in one
 •  Four Island courses feted by magazine
 •  PGA money leaders

By Bill Kwon

By now, Michelle Wie's exploits shouldn't be a surprise. Her precocious talent is nothing new to local golf fans. But she has now taken a major step to the next level with her remarkable performance in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Tour's first major of the year.

"It felt good knowing a lot of people were supporting me," Michelle Wie said of the ovation she received while approaching the 18th green on the final day of the Nabisco Championship.

Associated Press

She was in the final group in the final round on national television and posted a top-10 finish in a major championship. The Punahou School eighth-grader awed the gallery with her prodigious drives and drew raves about her game and composure from the media.

Even Nancy Lopez, one of Wie's golf idols, was awed: "She talks like she's 13. She acts like she's 13. But she plays golf like a veteran player. Unbelievable."

"This young girl never ceases to amaze me," added Ian Baker-Finch, a golf analyst for ABC Sports. "I can't think of words to describe the talent of this girl. She is something very special."

First, Wie becomes the youngest to make the cut in an LPGA major. The following day, she shoots a 66 to tie the lowest round by an amateur in an LPGA major, enabling her to join eventual winner Patricia Meunier-Lebouc and Annika Sorenstam, the best female golfer in the world, in the final threesome Sunday.

That simply blew the mind of LPGA veteran Judy Rankin, doing the TV commentary.

"I don't know where you go from here," she said, later adding about Wie's swing, "How do you improve on it?"

Well, if Michelle has her way, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Wie said it was a thrill to be in the final group in the final round, especially receiving a standing ovation walking to the 18th green.

"It felt good knowing a lot of people were supporting me. It was nice to have them come out," she said.

"I wasn't nervous," Wie said about her final-round 76 that gave her a 72-hole score of even-par 288 for a share of ninth place. "I just missed a lot of short putts."

She had 38 putts Sunday, including a three-putt on a 15-foot eagle attempt at the par-5 11th. Just imagine if her putter had been working.

Wie exceeded her goals.

"My goal going into the tournament was just trying to break par every round," said Wie, who received a trophy as low amateur.

"It was a good learning experience. It'll help me get more confidence. I know now I can do this," said Wie, who has five more LPGA events to show her stuff.

Her next appearance will be the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in Georgia later this month. She also has been invited to play in the LPGA ShopRite Classic in New Jersey June 27-29, the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic in Ohio Aug. 14-17, the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., Sept. 26-28, and the Sports Today CJ Nine Bridges Classic, an official LPGA Tour event, in Cheju Island, South Korea, Oct. 16-19.

You can bet that the tournament sponsors were glad that they had lined up early and wasted no time inviting her before others did.

Terry Wilcox, tournament director for the Kraft Nabisco Championship, was glad he did, although he took some early heat for inviting a 13-year-old to a limited-field event, let alone a major.

"It was a risky decision for him. There was a lot of pressure if Michelle didn't do well," said Michelle's father, BJ Wie

Wilcox was well aware of Wie. Positive feedback by some of the PGA pros and national golf writers who were at the Sony Open definitely helped, according to BJ Wie. "His decision paid off. It turned out to be a success," he said.

"Yes, we had a few negative comments regarding her invitation but I think she cleared that up quickly," said Wilcox. "If not by making the cut, certainly, with her 66. Michelle had a chance to show her ability on a national stage and I think that was good for her, for the tournament and for women's golf."

According to Wilcox, one of his guidelines in extending an exemption is to increase interest in the tournament and the tour. And Michelle Wie definitely gave the event extra coverage.

"Michelle was a crowd favorite. She probably had the second largest gallery all week with Annika having the largest," he said.

"She was a most wonderful addition to this championship," Rankin agreed.

Bill Kwon can be reached at bkwon@aloha.net.