Wie just another face at Waialae
Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
HONOLULU — The only crowd watching Michelle Wie was the people she brought with her.
When she first played the Sony Open in 2004 as a ninth-grader, PGA Tour players alongside her on the practice range would stop what they were doing to watch her hit balls, especially the driver. She turned heads walking across the putting green at Waialae Country Club because the gallery moved with her, along with a horde of photographers.
That wasn't the case Wednesday.
Wie walked onto the range to no fanfare, waiting for a spot to clear during the two-hour window that practice was allowed for players not competing in the pro-am. The 17-year-old took her place between Bob Estes and Billy Mayfair, neither of whom noticed. Her entourage consisted of her father (and caddie), her mother and instructor Sean Hogan. A Nike rep stopped by to check on her clubs.
Today will be her fourth straight time playing the Sony Open. What had been a buzz is now barely a murmur.
Wie still stands out because of her earrings, nail polish and the braided pigtails coming out of her newsboy hat.
Otherwise, she is starting to blend in.
"No one really talks about it," Dean Wilson said. "You know she's going to play. We've all seen her play. We've all seen her on TV. She's so popular that there's not much curiosity. You just cheer for her to make the cut."
There is plenty of evidence to support that.
No more than 15 people followed Wie during a practice round Tuesday when she played with defending champion David Toms. During a 25-minute interview with Davis Love III on Wednesday, no one brought up Wie once.
"It's not a one-shot deal like it was with Annika," Love later said, referring to Sorenstam playing the Colonial in 2003. "We all know her now. I went up and said hello to her like she was another player."
About the only thing that might change that is if Wie can deliver a new result.
She has missed the cut three previous times at Waialae, where she has an honorary membership. She is 1-for-12 making the cut against the men, the exception coming last spring at the SK Telecom Open in South Korea on the Asian Tour.
And based on her last four events against the men, there is little indication that this year at Waialae will be any different. Wie withdrew from the John Deere with heat exhaustion, taken away in a stretcher. She finished dead last at the European Masters and 84 Lumber Classic. And at the Casio World Open in Japan, the only player she beat was an amateur.
"I feel like the last couple of tournaments, I don't think I played to my full potential," Wie said. "This week, I want to play the best I can, hit every shot the best I can and try real hard. Whatever happens, happens. I want to play some good golf and make the cut."
She has plenty of fans on tour, and just as many skeptics.
"I pull for her all the time," Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger said.
Stuart Appleby says Wie continues to bring exposure to the Sony Open, but he's not sure when it will end, referring to it as a "saga."
"I think she came five years too early to play the men's tour," he said. "She should really just let it go for now, come back when she's accomplished at a game that's more comparable to someone like Annika. She's certainly not proving anything except that she can't play with the men at her level right now. There's not doubt she's going to improve dramatically as a player and mature as a person.
"But right now," he added, "it's just the wrong time."
Wie has been dealing with criticism over the last three years, especially with a barren trophy case.
She cashed her first paycheck at a PGA Tour event Tuesday by winning a pro-junior shootout, paired with a junior golfer who goes to her school. She won the playoff over Wilson, closest to the pin from 100 yards out.
First place was $3,000.
When someone suggested that playing against the men was about marketing, Wie fired back.
"I guess being the only girl on the baseball team when I was 4-years-old was also a marketing plan — not," she said. "It's what I want to do. Some people take it as, 'It's a marketing plan to make more money, blah, blah. But they don't realize it's what I want to do and I enjoy it. You can't trade happiness for anything."
Meanwhile, her future remains unclear.
The highlight of 2006 was finding out last month she had been accepted to Stanford. She plans to enroll in the fall and doesn't expect to stop until she has a diploma, no matter how long it takes.
"I worked my butt off for four years in high school," she said. "I'm not going to just get into Stanford and not graduate."
Wie first brought the buzz to east side of Oahu when shot 68 as a 14-year-old to miss the cut by one shot. Even though she hasn't come close the last two tries, she posted another 68 last year, making five birdies in a seven-hole stretch.
Her preparation has changed this year. Instead of spending every day at Waialae after the semester ended, Wie spent two weeks in Orlando, Fla., working with swing coach David Leadbetter. She opted out of the pro-am this year to do light work on her game.
She will find out over the next two days whether that makes a difference.
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