Would everyone please calm down? Yes, a 13-year-old amateur from
Hawaii, Michelle Wie, has burst onto the golf scene this year,
finishing ninth in an LPGA major in March, winning the U.S.
Women's Public Links Championship last month, competing against
Annika Sorenstam & Co. at last week's LPGA stop in New Jersey.
Yes, she's more accomplished at 13 than another golfing Mozart,
Tiger Woods, was at that age. Yes, her stated goals are audacious
and inspiring: to someday--eight years from now, when she's 21
and a college graduate--turn professional and become one of the
dominant players in the game, first on the LPGA circuit, later on
the PGA Tour. Yes, before that she'd like to play in the Masters,
as an amateur. ¬∂ Given all that talent and ambition, golf heads
everywhere are frantically trying to figure out when Wie will
really go pro, which brand of clubs and ball she'll play when she
does, who will manage her and how many millions some corporation
will guarantee her. ¬∂ You gotta chill, folks. Because what Wie is
doing right now--in the summer before she starts ninth grade at
the private, $12,050-a-year Punahou School in Honolulu--is so
extraordinary and exquisite that we should just enjoy her
precociousness. A 13-year-old girl who hits her full shots as
long and as well as any woman, including Sorenstam? It seems
unreal. ¬∂ Loading up at the dessert table in the dining room of
the Marriott Seaview Resort near Atlantic City last Friday night,
Wie looked almost like a typical teenager. Except that she was
still wearing her golf shoes and cap from her first round of the
LPGA ShopRite Classic. She's a golf nerd, all right. Just like
On the practice tee she looks like nobody else. Wie is long and
lean, nearly six feet tall, and her swing is one of the best in
golf. On the range she can unload one 300-yard drive after
another. It's only natural that the marketers are salivating:
She's an A student, pretty, charming, and relaxed in interviews.
One day, in all likelihood, she'll be an industry, as her idol
Woods is today. But for now she's really just an amazing kid.
Wie's Public Links triumph made her the youngest person ever to
win a USGA event in which adults compete. The victory inspired
her father to dream up a lofty summer goal: the Michelle Wie USGA
Grand Slam. The second leg comes this week, when Wie will play in
the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge near Portland. Later this
month she'll play in the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship in
Fairfield, Conn. Then in early August she'll play in the U.S.
Women's Amateur in Gladwyne, Pa. Nobody has won those four USGA
events in a single year. Nobody has played those four in a single
There is no nap time built into Wie's schedule. Before school
begins she'll play in another LPGA event, in Ohio in mid-August,
and later that month, thanks to an invitation from the Golf
Channel, she'll be the only female in a Canadian Tour men's
event, the Bay Mills Open in Brimley, Mich. In September, after a
couple of weeks as a high schooler, Wie will travel to Boise,
Idaho, to play on a sponsor's exemption in an event on the
all-male Nationwide Tour, the PGA Tour's minor league. After that
she'll return to Oregon for another LPGA event. In mid-October
she'll go to South Korea--where both of her parents were born and
where Michelle can show off her fluent Korean--for another LPGA
July 6, 2003
If it all sounds like too much, her father, B.J., a University of
Hawaii transportation professor who doubles as Michelle's caddie,
agrees. "Next summer we concentrate on one thing--winning the
men's U.S. Public Links," he says. That's a men's event by
tradition only, not by rule. The winner, by tradition, is invited
to play in the Masters. Dad, do I call him Hootie or Mr. Johnson?
Wie is the only child of doting parents, both of whom, once low
handicappers, gave up golf to devote themselves to their
daughter's success. Michelle started hitting balls in earnest at
age four. She plays year-round, although she takes a break from
the game on her birthday, Oct. 11, and between Christmas and New
Her swing is a dream. Her backswing is superwide, like Davis
Love's but longer. The downswing is art. Unlike Woods's, it's not
a violent hit. No 150-pound golfer, male or female, has ever made
hitting a 300-yard drive look so effortless. "You can't teach
that rhythm," says Wie's teacher, Gary Gilchrist. "You're born
Her mistakes come when she swings too easily, with wedges and,
most notably, the putter, her least consistent club. "In ball
striking she's already one of the top five out here," says
Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, the French golfer who won the Kraft
Nabisco Championship, an LPGA major, in March while playing the
final round with Wie. "Her putting I don't know about. She makes
a big demonstration when she misses. A professional does not do
that. But she is a kid."
A very competitive kid. Last week at the short, lovely,
old-school Bay Course at the Seaview Resort, Wie opened with an
even-par 71, one behind Sorenstam and six shots behind the
leaders. At her press conference afterward Wie was asked if she
was happy with her play. "No," she answered. "Not really." Never
mind that she was a teenager holding her own against the best
women in the world. In Michelle Wie's mind, a score can always be
There's a refreshing candor among the Wies. Describing debates
with her caddie-father over club selection last Friday, Michelle
said, "We were in different books. We were on different planets."
Later B.J. was asked what he thought of the course. "Frankly?" he
said. "I don't care for it. Too traditional. It doesn't inspire
Michelle." That directness makes it credible when the Wies say
Michelle will finish college before turning pro. Says B.J., "When
teenagers make a lot of money, it doesn't seem to lead to
happiness." Michelle adds, "I like what I'm doing because there
is no pressure."
She has already said she would like to attend Stanford. The
family values education. B.J. has a doctorate, in transportation.
His father has one in aeronautics. "A high school education is
not enough," B.J. says. In the meantime the parents are spending
more than $50,000 a year on their child's golf education. They
are not saving for college. They figure Michelle's golf skill
will take care of that.
Golf is a family affair for the Wies. Michelle's mother, Bo, a
Honolulu real estate agent, followed her daughter for all 54
holes last week, carrying an enormous umbrella in case of rain,
which never came. After a disappointing Saturday round of 72, to
make the cut on the number, Michelle signed autograph after
autograph while her father sprayed mosquito repellent on her bare
legs and shoulders.
But the Wies are not living in some never-never land. They know
the life money can buy: private jets, fancy cars, the best sushi.
While driving with her parents between tournaments, Michelle
sometimes jokes that she will not turn pro for anything less than
$100 million, the value of Woods's Nike deal. "The family has an
eight-year plan, but I think a lot is going to happen that's
going to make them rethink it," Gilchrist says.
In the meantime we can watch a 13-year-old who's like none before
her. Last week, playing uninspired golf, she shot rounds of 71,
72 and 72 to finish tied for 52nd, seven behind Sorenstam and 18
behind winner Angela Stanford, who earned $195,000.
Ten years from now, 20 years from now, will Michelle Wie be a
much better player than she is today? Will she be dominating the
women's tour? There's no telling. The woods are filled with adult
golfers who peaked as teenagers. She's a thrill to watch right
now. That should be more than enough.
HOW A 13-YEAR-OLD HITS IT 300 YARDS
How can a willowy teen blast tee shots 30 yards farther than
battle-hardened LPGA pros--and even a handful of PGA Tour
players? That's what SI asked Mitchell Spearman, the director of
instruction at Manhattan Woods Golf Club in West Nyack, N.Y., and
one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers. Spearman, who has worked
with Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Greg Norman and Curtis
Strange, among others, spent an hour with Michelle Wie and her
coach, Gary Gilchrist (a former colleague of Spearman's), on June
24 as Wie prepared for the ShopRite LPGA Classic in New Jersey.
Here's Spearman's analysis of Wie's preternatural power, plus the
one swing flaw he thinks she needs to eliminate.
GOOD Michelle's downswing reveals the source of her tremendous
power. She stores up energy with substantial lag--the angle
between wrists and shaft--and great arm extension, and she
sustains these perfect positions until just before impact.
GOOD No 13-year-old girl or boy before her has ever swung as
well as Michelle. Notice her consistency--the backswing and
follow-through are mirror images. At the finish she has fully
released her right side, yet she's still stable as a rock.
BAD Playing in Hawaii's trade winds has made Michelle prone to
leaning into the shot, which can bring about her nemesis--a hook.
Above, her head has dipped, her left arm is bent a little too
much, and her right arm glances against her body.
"Next summer we concentrate on the men's Public Links," says B.J.
The winner, by tradition, is invited to THE MASTERS.