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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005

Wie wants to win one in '05

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

KAHUKU — Imagine being 15, with a prodigious golf game and a refreshing ignorance of traditional restraints. This is Michelle Wie, teeing off today in a blitz of local limelight for the first round of the inaugural SBS Open at Turtle Bay.

SBS Open at Turtle Bay

WHAT: First full-field event of 2005 LPGA season

WHEN: From 7:10 a.m. today and tomorrow, and 9 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: Turtle Bay Palmer Course (Par 72, 6,563 yards)

FIELD: 131 pros and Honolulu amateur Michelle Wie

PURSE: $1 million ($150,000 first prize)

TICKETS: $5 daily. Children 15-under free when accompanied by ticketed adult. Free parking on Kamehameha Highway, with shuttles to first tee.

s The Golf Channel, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. HST, and SBS in Korea

Imagine being 15, with a prodigious golf game, an urge to "change the world" and the sudden realization that you might not be alone. This is also Michelle Wie, teeing off on the Palmer Course with seven other teenagers in the LPGA's first official tournament of the year.

Wie might be the only one here missing a week of 10th grade algebra, physics and Japanese at Punahou, and the only amateur. But she is not the only prodigy. The LPGA is suddenly stacked with them, and more are on their precocious way from all over the world.

What sets Wie apart still is her age — and by definition, that changes by the moment — and ultra-precocious past.

She is playing in her 18th LPGA event. She finished in the top 20 at 6 of 7 last year, including a fourth at the first major. She also missed the cut at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Hawai'i by one shot.

But, she hasn't won an individual title since becoming the youngest Women's Amateur Public Links champion 19 months ago. And last month, the electricity she so charismatically supplied to the 2004 Sony Open suffered a bit of a rolling blackout when she shot 75-74 to miss the cut by seven.

"I got over it really fast," Wie said yesterday. "I am not the kind of person to dwell on something even if I did bad in that tournament. I am just ready for this tournament now."

We always expect more from Wie. Less has made her look more like just another remarkable member of the new pack of hungry young players. And with 24 of the LPGA's top 30 money winners from last year here, Wie could be just another face in the crowd launching 270-yard drives when she tees off this afternoon.

Except she is Hawai'i's face and a compelling character with a 6-foot frame — anchored by 6-inch earrings — that towers over most others. And she has created this outrageous golf wish list that includes overwhelming women's golf before she takes on the men and earns an invitation to The Masters.

"I just think I think differently from other people sometimes," Wie admitted.

Then she pondered her recent past. "Growing up, I never really thought about just winning," she added. "But I think it is an important part of life and I seriously think I need to win this year."

Not that the Wies are worried. Father BJ says the swing changes David Leadbetter has brought in over the last year-plus are working. His daughter is working "diligently" and "enjoying the moment." They are waiting for the day when every piece of her potentially lethal game comes together.

This year's Sony was not a setback, according to the Wies. "When you look forward to an event a lot, you get yourself too hyped up," Michelle explained. "I was a little bit tired. I learned how to tone it down a little bit."

She took the following month off to rest her weary left wrist and withdrew from the Hawai'i Pearl Open. Now Wie is at Turtle Bay preparing to take down Arnold Palmer's course. The rest of the prodigies and established pros are not on her mind.

"It is always going to be me fighting against myself," she said. "I wish them really good luck."

So do her parents. Their plan remains in place. Michelle, still interested in attending Stanford but now not talking of playing golf for the Cardinal, will turn pro when the Wies are ready.

"I don't try to compare Michelle or imitate anyone else as far as turning professional," BJ said. "We have our own ways of thinking. Some people don't understand, but we are very comfortable with what she's doing.

"There are so many factors to take into consideration. Finances aren't really a part. If finances were the most important she could have turned pro a year ago. Some reporters that say her marketing appeal has peaked don't understand what's going on. They should be patient and see what happens."

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8043.