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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Wie's goal is to master golf world

 • Special report: Michelle Wie

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Michelle Wie throws out the first pitch before the start of a major league game between Toronto and host Baltimore. Wie's lob to bullpen coach Rick Dempsey fluttered to the right of the strike zone.

GAIL BURTON | Associated Press

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Michelle Wie is pumped after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the start of the Toronto Blue Jays-Baltimore Orioles game.

GAIL BURTON | Associated Press

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HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. The first golf tournament Michelle Wie watched on TV was The Masters.

"I never really realized that it was only for men," she told a room full of reporters yesterday at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, which opens tomorrow at Bulle Rock Golf Course.

That explains a lot.

Wie dreams in LCD and surround sound. When she chose golf as her sole athletic pursuit she sought to become the best player in the world, not the best woman.

Millions of range balls and endorsement dollars later, it seems Wie has been pursuing that goal for a lifetime.

In her case, that would be 16 years, though she admitted to "feeling 80" when she woke yesterday after Monday's historic 36-hole bid to become the first female in the U.S. Open.

Hers is a relatively lonely pursuit.

Few on the LPGA tour have shown an inclination to follow in Wie's double-digit footsteps.

Annika Sorenstam, the finest female player on the planet and three-time defending champion here, beat Wie to the cross-gender punch when she played the Colonial in 2003. Sorenstam treasured her PGA Tour time, but immediately announced she would never do it again.

Karrie Webb, inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame last year, has no interest in ever playing against men.

"None," Webb said yesterday. "I just find that playing on the LPGA is enough of a challenge for me. I don't need to set goals any higher than trying to be the best out here. I would be pretty happy with that."

Webb, 31, was the best out here in 1999 and 2000, before Sorenstam surged past. Webb's dominance deteriorated to the point where she fell out of the top 10 last year. She is enjoying a resurgence now after winning the year's first major (the Kraft Nabisco in which Wie finished a shot back), and allows herself to look back in an effort to find what went wrong.

Technically, she made some needed swing changes that needed time to kick in.

Emotionally, she believes now that she set her goals too low a problem Wie might never experience.

"I didn't have a big goal to chase," Webb said. "I didn't see the purpose in it. I knew there was a purpose for it, but I just had achieved more than I had ever thought I could, so I didn't feel like there was any goal out there worth chasing besides winning a tournament every week.

"But I realized that I needed to not only have those goals of winning and competing at a high level every week, but you needed that something down the road to try and chase after, whether or not you achieve it."

Morgan Pressel, who turned 18 last month, might be even more adamant about dedicating herself solely to the LPGA. Pressel, who petitioned the tour to get membership before her birthday, might be Wie's most outspoken critic in terms of taking on the men.

Pressel says the possibility offers her no intrigue.

"I see the LPGA tour as a great place for me to hopefully help grow the tour and make it the best that it possibly can be," Pressel said. "And I'm not going to say that down the road I'll never do it, but I doubt it."

Wie, no doubt, will.

Her presence at Monday's U.S. Open sectional qualifier created mayhem in the sleepy New Jersey suburb of Summit.

Wie came up five shots short of qualifying for the Open, but congratulatory text messages started coming in as soon as her 10-hour day ended.

Her 2006 schedule started with the Sony Open in Hawai'i, where she missed the cut for the third straight year. She made her first men's cut at the Asian Tour's SK Telecom Open last month, finishing 37th.

After this week, the U.S. Women's Open and the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship, she will play the PGA Tour's final John Deere Classic. Three of her final four events are on the European, PGA and Japan men's tours.

"It's always been my goal to be able to compete with the men," Wie said.

"And it's always going to be. And I'm always going to try. ... I'm just being me. Just playing wherever I want to play and I want to play on the LPGA Tour as well as the men's and the European tour and the Asian tour. I mean, just all over the place. I love it."

It is also lucrative. Foreign appearance fees can be as big as LPGA purses.

The buzz that surrounds Wie when she "puts myself in an uncomfortable place" by her definition, out of her "comfort zone" is deafening.

Yesterday's New York Times ran her picture on its cover, and had a story and column in its sports section. USA Today ran two stories on the Open qualifier. When Wie plays a men's event, attendance zooms.

Everybody seems to care when she plays, whether they support her choice to be in an "uncomfortable place" or not. Ironically, when Wie actually gets out there, she looks remarkably comfortable.

She called Monday's 36-hole spectacle "fun ... really a lot of fun."

Sorenstam knows that sensation. She admitted to intense nerves on the first tee at Colonial, but realizes even three years later how much she got out of the experience, and how much she enjoyed herself.

"It really doesn't matter where you are," Sorenstam said. "You've got to be able to block everything out and you've just got to focus on the shot you're hitting. A coach of mine told me, 'Remember, the ball doesn't know where you are, so just keep on hitting it.' "

NOTES

Michelle Wie will play with Turtle Bay representative Dorothy Delasin and Mhairi McKay of Scotland tomorrow and Friday. She tees off at 7:43 a.m. Hawai'i time tomorrow, and 1:37 a.m. Hawai'i time Friday.

Former Rainbow Wahine Cindy Rarick got into the LPGA Championship field as the third alternate. A.J. Eathorne, Brittany Lang, Meg Mallon and Sae-Hee Son withdrew.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.