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BY JOHN FLANAGAN

Thursday, June 27, 2002


Young isle golfer roars
onto the national scene


SOMEONE'S missing from the practice green at Olomana Golf Course in Waimanalo this summer.

While there are still plenty of junior golfers around, the long-limbed girl who was a fixture there every winter and spring evening -- chipping and putting, chipping and putting -- is gone.

The big cat's on the prowl.

Michelle Wie might be old news in Hawaii, but she truly burst upon the national golf scene last weekend as a semifinalist in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship in Sunriver, Ore.

Although she lost her semi-final match to 19-year-old Hwanhee Lee, the tournament runner-up, 12-year-old Wie, who becomes an eighth grader at Punahou this fall, stole the show.

Mike Ritz of thegolfchannel.com called her the "true star of the championship" and gushed, "This lovely young lady seems to be a can't-miss star of the very near future. She stands 6 feet tall and could pass as a runway model. Her flowing, graceful swing is one of perfect balance and immense power."

The 6 feet tall part might be a slight exaggeration -- Michelle is described elsewhere as "only" 5-10 -- but the rest is on the mark. She is the youngest semifinalist in the history of USGA women's championships.

SHOWING Tiger Woods-like grit and length off the tee, she won her quarterfinal match against Waiakea High School sophomore Amanda Wilson on the 19th hole of their match, nearly driving the green on the 357-yard par four and sinking a clutch birdie putt.

It wasn't beginner's luck. This is Wie's third year competing for the Women's Publinx title -- she made history, qualifying at age 10 -- and she misses few opportunities to gain experience, in both women's events and men's.

After winning two of the state's three major women's golf titles last year, the Jenny K. Invitational and the Hawaii State Women's Golf Association Stroke Play Championship, Michelle has moved on.

Last January, she partnered with British Open winner Tom Lehman at the PGA's Sony Open Pro-Junior Golf Challenge, where her big, smooth swing earned her the nickname "Big Weasy," a take-off on Ernie Els' handle, "Big Easy."

In February, she found a game at the Pearl Open, the only female entered. According to the Associated Press, she's still too young to play on Punahou's golf team and besides, she said, "I like beating the guys."

LATER THAT month, she became the youngest player ever to qualify for an LPGA event, the Takefuji Classic in Waikoloa, breaking the record set by a 14-year-old in 1997. She didn't make the cut, but she did shoot respectable rounds of 72 and 74.

In May, she played in a second LPGA event in South Carolina and earlier this month she became the youngest golfer and first female ever to win a match and advance in the Manoa Cup's 94 years, beating a 54-year-old man.

Michelle is by no means the only wunderkind of Hawaii women's golf. Besides her Publinx opponent Wilson, who's 14, there's also Stephanie Kono, 12, who won the Jenny K. this year, while Michelle was competing on the mainland, and became the State Women's Match Play Champion last year at age 11.

But Michelle isn't just one of the girls. She wants to be the best golfer, period. She wears men's golf shoes (size 9 1/2), hits men's clubs, drives from the back tees and her role model is Tiger Woods.

While officials are now considering a special exemption for Wie to play in the USGA Junior Girls Championship, she has her sights set higher.

Michelle Wie wants to win the Men's Publinx. Why? The winner is invited to Augusta National to play in the Masters.

Look out Tiger, there's a new cat in town.





John Flanagan is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
He can be reached at: jflanagan@starbulletin.com
.



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