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Teen-age golf sensation seeks victory in local LPGA event

By Doug Gorman

There's no doubt Hawaii native Michelle Wie is just a teenager.

She dresses like her peers, she can be soft-spoken and shy around strangers, she likes to use teen-age lingo such as cool and awesome, and when not tackling her eighth-grade school work which includes honors math, she has been known to hang out at the mall with her friends.

Lately, however, there's been little time for eating pizza in the food court or shopping for the latest fashion trends.

Her budding golf career consumes much of the 13-year-old's time now, and with good reason. That's because Wie has been known to blister a tee shot 300 yards straight down a fairway.

Her ability to play the game has turned the golfing prodigy into perhaps the most talked about golfer, male or female, since Tiger Woods announced he was leaving Stanford University to turn pro late in the 1990s.

Today, area golf fans get to see for themselves what all the fuss is about when Wie tees off as an amateur in the first round of the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship at Eagle's Landing Country Club.

The young golfer will be paired in the final group, which tees off at 1:50 p.m. on hole No. 10.

Wie, who was born in 1989, is excited about playing in the event hosted by LPGA Hall of Fame member Nancy Lopez.

Wie sent a reminder to a throng of reporters on Thursday as to just how young she is compared to the rest of the tournament field when asked to comment on playing in the event hosted by one of the tour's all-time great and popular players.

"I heard from my parents, actually, she's was great player awhile ago. She's really a pretty person, and I'd like to be like her."

If Wie seems confident about her ability to play the game, it's with good reason.

This won't be her first trek around a golf course in an LPGA event. Last year she missed the cut in three tournaments, but gained valuable experience playing against the best female golfers in the world.

Wie burst on the scene this year after finishing ninth at the Kraft Nabisco Championships, the tour's first major. After shooting a 66 on Saturday, Wie had a chance to win and was paired in the final group on Sunday.

Her performance put her in the media spotlight.

"It (media attention) was a lot more than I expected so far?it's been great," she said.

The biggest factor for Wie could be overcoming a case of jet lag. Wie and her family left Hawaii Wednesday at 5:30, stopped in St. Louis and made it into Atlanta Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

From there, it was straight to the interview tent and then out to the course for practice rounds.

"It's my first time doing it (taking a long flight), and (then coming straight to the golf course) I get really tired for a 13-year old."

Her distance off the tee means she can out drive many players on the women's tour.

For Wie to have a chance to win the tournament, she will have to work on her short game.

"In Nabisco my driver and long game were working well, but I'm trying to work on everything else. I got a new putter, so I hope it's working this week."

The teenager's summer will be filled with other golf dates, as she will also play in the ShopRite LPGA Classic, Jamie Farr Kroger Classic, the Safeway Classic and Sports Today CJ Nine Bridges Classic.

She is also expected to play in the U.S. Women's Amateur and Women's Open.

Wie might just borrow a page out of Annika Sorenstam's agenda by attempting to play in a men's event later this year. While Sorenstam will compete in the Colonial next month, Wie has been invited to participate in a Canadian PGA event.

As for pro golf, that will have to wait, maybe as long as 10 years, while Wie finishes her education, which includes college, possibly at Woods' alma mater Stanford.