Michelle Wie on the prowl at U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
I woke at 8 a.m. and whisked open the curtains of my room at Sunriver Resort. That’s when I saw her – the giant. Right outside my window, on the practice putting green, this tree-tall golfer was plunking putt after putt.
I thought of yelling something like, “You got touch, girl,” but I am skeptical of all sightings, whether they be of Elvis, flying saucers, Big Foot, or a giant with soft hands.
In my little hometown on the Illinois prairie, two of my buddies, having consumed too much demon brew, once made a late-night call to the local police. “There’s a lion running loose downtown,” they reported.
Actually it was a very large, shaggy dog.
“You be sure and get home safely,” the policeman told them. “We’ll take care of the lion.”
The lion may have been imaginary, but the giant is real. Here at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, everybody was talking about Michelle Wie (pronounced We), who stands 5-foot-11 and is still growing. Hey, she’s 12 years old.
Wie is not wee.
“Do people always ask you why your daughter is so tall?” I inquired of her father, Byung-Woof Wie, a Korean native who settled his family in Honolulu.
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“And what do you tell them?” I wondered.
“I tell them she eats a lot of well-balanced meals,” he explained. “Also, I am big (6-foot-2), and my wife is big (Hyun Kyong Wie is 5-foot-7).”
Big, in this case, does not mean fat. All members of the Wie family look extremely athletic – slim, flexible, powerful. Michelle also appears to be very mature and could easily pass for 17 or 18.
Although her semifinal match didn’t start until 10:15, she was practicing on the putting green more than two hours before the competition. This was nothing new.
“She’s here at 6 a.m. eating breakfast and here at 9 p.m. eating dinner,” said Josie Whisnant, special events coordinator for Sunriver Resort. Well-balanced meals, to be sure.
“And when she’s not playing,” Whisnant concluded, “she’s out practicing.” Where does a giant practice? Anywhere she wants.
Wie, an eighth-grader, is an authentic golf prodigy. Men of the world, beware: This 12-year-old girl will make you feel totally inadequate on the golf course.
In her WAPL semifinal match against Hwanhee Lee of UNLV, Wie outdrove her opponent by 73 yards on the first hole. I stepped it off. The hole played 357 yards, and Wie’s drive finished 55 yards from the flagstick.
On the 360-yard ninth hole, Wie had 50 yards left to the pin after pulverizing her drive.
On the 385-yard 11th hole, Lee opted to hit fairway wood to the green while Wie hit pitching wedge.
On the 326-yard 15th hole, Wie’s drive finished in a greenside bunker. There was no wind.
“It must have something to do with all that volcanic dust in Hawaii,” said one teen-age boy in the gallery.
In a 5-and-4 victory over Janell Howland of Beaumont, Texas, Wie recorded 3s on 10 of 14 holes. She made birdies on seven of nine par 4s.
Wie reminds me of Tiger Woods. The first time I saw Woods, he was 13. “You won’t believe this kid,” I told my friends.
“That sure is a funny first name,” many of them responded.
A few years later, the world discovered Woods. Tiger was no longer a funny name.
My newest tale: This young girl will turn the golf world upside down. As Tiger transformed men’s golf, she will revolutionize the women’s game.
For her part, the precocious Wie says she wants to someday play in the Masters, which theoretically is not open to women. She says she wants to join the PGA Tour, widely viewed as the summit of male golf. She says she will play in this year’s qualifying round for the U.S. Amateur, a national championship for men. No woman has ever done this, although Katherine Hull of Pepperdine University did play unsuccessfully in a qualifier for the 2002 U.S. (men’s) Public Links Championship.
The legendary Babe Zaharias talked about entering the U.S. (men’s) Open, but never did.
In golf, as in life, anything is possible. Several hundred spectators watched in astonishment as Lee, the giant slayer, was 2 under par in defeating Wie 3-and-2. Now I’m wondering if there is a lion running loose in Taylorville, Ill.