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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 10, 2006

Wie learns a lot during busy summer 'School'

 •  Wie now knows when a stroke is really a stroke
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 •  Golf notices

By Bill Kwon

"I'm getting very close. (It) was the closest I've ever been," Michelle Wie said after tying for second at the Evian Masters in France.


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Another Summer Tour has ended for Michelle Wie, Hawai'i's most heralded golf phenom.

It's hard to believe that it has been seven years since Wie first took her precocious golf game to the Mainland. In 2000 she was the youngest to qualify for a USGA amateur event when she competed in the Women's Amateur Public Links Championship.

Her game has gotten better each year, but it hasn't gotten any easier because she continues to keep raising the bar.

Financially, Summer Tour VII her first as a professional proved a huge success. In five events this summer, Wie earned $536,894 to increase her 2006 winnings to $722,646, which would put her 14th on the money list if she were an LPGA member.

In terms of personal success, however, Wie remains disappointed that she has yet to win her first trophy as a professional. She came ever so close again, tying for third in the U.S. Women's Open and tying for second in the Evian Masters.

"I'm getting very close. (It) was the closest I've ever been," Wie said after the event in France.

Wie wasn't a factor in the Women's British Open last week, ending at 6-over 294 for 72 holes, 13 strokes behind winner Sherri Steinhauer. Excluding the DQ in last year's Samsung World Championship, it was Wie's lowest finish since a T33 in the 2004 Evian Masters.

Still, Wie said, she learned more during the week at Royal Lytham St. Annes, England, than she did the rest of the summer.

All things considered, it's a remarkable run for Wie, who missed only one cut (the 2003 Jamie Farr Kroger Classic) in her last 29 LPGA events.

Based on her track record, it's not a matter of if she's going to win, but when she's going to win.

She has one more opportunity to win a women's event this year, the Samsung World Championship, Oct. 12 to 15, but it won't be as a 16-year-old. Wie will turn 17 the day before the tournament starts. And it will be with a new caddie after Team Wie fired Greg Johnston this week.

Her only other appearances the rest of the year are in men's tour events the Omega European Masters in Switzerland, the 84 Lumber Classic in Pennsylvania and the Casio World Open in Japan all after she begins her senior year at Punahou School on Aug. 24. Her goal is more modest when competing against the men: just make the cut and play the weekend.

This summer she missed the cut in the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic for the second straight year and also failed to qualify for the U.S. Open, although she became the first female to reach the Open sectional qualifying. This May, Wie became the first female to make the cut in an Asian Tour event, finishing tied for 35th in the SK Telcom Open in South Korea.

In 2005, she posted second-place finishes in the Evian Masters and the McDonald's LPGA Championship and tied for third in the Women's British Open. However, Wie's most impressive showing last year was the distinction of being the first female to play in the U.S. Men's Amateur Public Links Championship. She lost in the quarterfinals to eventual winner Clay Ogden.

Summer Tour 2006, though, was about being able to keep the money, unlike in previous years when she was still an amateur.

And this summer was also about learning experiences, such as staying out of pot bunkers in British links courses.

And, yes, also by knowing the rules of golf. Reading up on them, if she has to.

The two-stroke penalty she incurred during the second round for touching a loose impediment in the bunker on her backswing didn't cost her a chance for a top-10 finish. Nor did it lead to a DQ because it was brought to her attention before she signed her scorecard, unlike at Samsung last year.

Wie is well aware of rule 13.4 regarding prohibited actions in a hazard, or in this case a bunker. But what tripped her up was not knowing the definition of a stroke, which, according to the rules of golf, is "the forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at or moving the ball."

It's a common misconception among a lot of golfers that the backswing is part of the stroke. It isn't. So for Wie, it's another learning experience the hard way.

When asked if she was going to start reading the book of rules, Wie replied, "It is not actually great reading material."

Her comment elicited laughter from the media. But not from purists of the game. And contrary to what Michelle thinks, I think it makes great reading material.