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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 30, 2006

Product of her own talent

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i's Michelle Wie will tee off at 6:24 a.m. (Hawai'i time) today in the first LPGA major tournament of the year.

CHRIS CARLSON | Associated Press

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. On an island far from the nearest large mass of land, Michelle Wie has always marched to the beat of a different driver in golf. Nothing has changed at age 16, as she tees off this morning in her fourth Kraft Nabisco Championship.

While the LPGA plays its first major of the year Wie, a non-member, will go for her first professional victory and first victory over professionals on an exemption. The Punahou junior is a "member" only of her own unique "altering conventional wisdom" tour.

While new LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens constantly uses the marketing phrase "branding" to describe her members' need to become "their own product," and even offers them an "individual branding coach," Wie has been evolving into a high-profile original since she was a little girl:

  • Qualify for a USGA event at 10, check.

  • Win two Hawai'i women's majors at 11, check.

  • Compete against men at the Manoa Cup and Pearl Open; become the youngest to Monday qualify for the LPGA at 12, check.

  • Make history by winning a USGA adult event and surviving an LPGA cut at 13, check.

  • Shoot in the 60s at a PGA Tour event at 14, check.

  • Reach the quarterfinals of the "men's" Public Links Championship, turn pro and make millions at 15, check.

    Annika Sorenstam, the most successful and second-highest-paid female golfer out here, has hired her own advisers to create an "Annika brand." Wie, by all accounts the world's highest-paid female golfer, is already blessed with some of the world's most sought-after coaches, image-makers and sponsors. Ultimately, her father BJ says, Michelle has always "had the final say."

    "Michelle has been very, very fortunate to have such good people around," BJ said. "It was just a natural movement forward. We never really had a master plan. We, as parents, wanted to encourage Michelle to do what she enjoyed most. ... We were very fortunate. It worked out very well."

    SOLHEIM CUP QUALIFYING

    Membership does have some privileges. Solheim Cup coach Betsy King, a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, is here participating in past-champion activities and doing her homework on next year's team. Wie is not an option for the U.S. team unless she becomes an LPGA member, a possibility King would welcome.

    "I'd love to have her," she said. "I want the best players."

    The Solheim Cup is the female equivalent of the Ryder Cup, a biennial team match-play competition with the best American-born players from the LPGA facing the best European-born players from the Ladies European Tour. The U.S. leads 6-3, but has to try and defend next September in Sweden. The European Team has won three of the four Cups played in Europe.

    The U.S. won the 2005 Cup with a diverse 12-player team that ranged from 40-somethings Beth Daniel, Juli Inkster, Rosie Jones and Meg Mallon, to Paula Creamer (now 19), Natalie Gulbis (23) and Christina Kim (22). Inkster is probably the only peer that King, 50, will have as an option this time around. The Americans might be getting better, but they are also getting much younger.

    "Juli says she just talks to them like she's talking to her daughters," King said. "Same music. They all listen to the same people."

    The first 10 Americans are picked on the basis of Solheim Cup points, or how they fare against other Americans, over two years. The captain picks the final two players. Solheim points are doubled the year of the Cup, which is how Creamer, a rookie last year, earned her way onto the 2005 team.

    LEAPS OF FAITH

    The Champions Lake along the 18th has been renovated for the 35th anniversary to try and sustain one of the most memorable traditions in women's golf, on its most famous hole.

    Amy Alcott initially leaped into the lake after she won in 1988. She did it again after her 1991 victory, with then-tournament hostess Dinah Shore in tow. Donna Andrews finally took up the challenge, and turned it into tradition, when she went in after winning in 1994.

    The halting nature of the habit was due primarily to the state of the lake, which was frighteningly murky. After Dottie Pepper dived in 1999, she developed an illness doctors traced to "something green" found in her ear.

    According to The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, a new "leaping area" has been installed, with much cleaner water separated from the rest of the lake.

    NOTES

    Michelle Wie and Ai Miyazato play together today (from 6:24 a.m. Hawai'i time) and tomorrow (11:23 a.m.). They also played together in the opening rounds last year. Wie's opening rounds were 70-74 and she eventually tied for 14th. Miyazato struggled to 75-76, then rallied with 70-74 on the weekend and tied for 44th.

    Wie will again play in the local qualifier for the U.S. Open, in May at Turtle Bay Resort. She was third alternate last year. Wie said again Tuesday that she could not try to qualify for the British Open, because the dates conflicted with the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship.

    Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.