SONY OPEN GOLF
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pro golfer Michelle Wie played a practice round yesterday at the Waialae Country Club in preparation for the Sony Open this week. Wie, her coach David Leadbetter, left, and her caddie, Greg Johnston,*
watched a ball hit by playing partner Justin Rose.
Third time a charm?
Wie looks for a breakout pro tournament performance at Waialae
MICHELLE WIE gets paid to play golf, so that makes her a professional. But so far the checks come in just for representing corporations and drawing big crowds.
The 16-year old prodigy will only completely belong when Sundays become paydays. That's true for any rookie, regardless of age or gender.
Not that Wie is uncomfortable, especially this week. She was all smiles and at home yesterday after a wind-dominated practice round at Waialae Country Club for the Sony Open -- her first PGA Tour event since turning pro last fall. When describing her status as a non-amateur, though, she threw in more qualifiers than the sponsors' dream will probably ever have to endure to get into tournaments.
"I'm actually kind of one of them now. Sort of. In a way," Wie said to an overflowing interview room after her round with Justin Rose and Sean O'Hair.
She will obviously never be completely "one of them" on the men's tour, but some say this could be the week the Punahou junior makes their cut for the first time -- and if not now, soon.
Wie gives it a shot for the third time here when she tees off tomorrow with Chris Couch and Camilo Villegas, starting at the 10th hole at 8:40 a.m. They begin Friday's second round at hole No. 1 at 1:10 p.m.
"If she doesn't (make the cut now), she will eventually," said O'Hair, who won last year's John Deere Classic, at which Wie missed the weekend by two strokes. "It's not a matter of if, just a matter of when. I think she's playing well enough to do it. She could possibly do better than just making the cut. But I don't want to put any pressure on her."
Wie had a rough time with the Waialae trades yesterday, missing most of the fairways on the front nine. Her distance also suffered.
"I felt like every hole was into the wind," she said. "It never really felt like any hole was downwind for me today."
Swing coach David Leadbetter, who also counts Rose and O'Hair among his pupils, wasn't overly concerned.
"It was tough out there, on practically every hole," Leadbetter said.
"The guys had the same problem. It's a real test. She played well. She putted well and her short game is really good."
Her approach shots were generally on the mark yesterday.
"Her swing is getting very efficient-looking," Rose said. "She loads it up really well. It's kind of extreme conditions out there today. ... These conditions, in a sense, suit her, because she can hit the low knockdown shot very well and she has a great short game. I don't think anybody is going to hit every green, so I think her short game is in good shape, too."
This is Wie's first tournament since she missed the cut at the Casio Open, a Japan men's tour event, in late November. Before that, it was October and her pro debut at the Samsung World Championship, an all-star women's event in which she finished fourth in a 20-player field, but was disqualified for an illegal drop and scorecard error.
Six weeks between tournaments is not good for the rhythm, Wie and Leadbetter said.
"That's the hardest part for me. I play one tournament, then I take a month off," she said.
"You can't just turn it off and turn it on," the coach said. "We're never going to see what she's really capable of until she plays a bunch of tournaments in a row."
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Michelle Wie says she is still making her high school education a priority as she prepares for the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club this week.
But education remains a priority for Wie. She could go the home-school route, but Wie and her parents value a diploma from Punahou, especially since she still plans to go to Stanford. And if Wie didn't go to school, how would she be teased about forgetting to bring her lunch money?
"They (her friends) have been making fun of me with all the money jokes. It's been pretty normal," Wie said. "I'm glad about that. I was very relieved about that."
With school, an increased weight-training regimen and the occasional tournament, Wie also has promotional duties for Sony and Nike. For now at least, she sees them as fun. She has done a video and some photo shoots for Sony.
"It hasn't been hard to juggle," she said.
Wie said she doesn't feel pressure to make the cut this week, because the sponsor, Sony, is one of her biggest benefactors.
"I don't really think there's a lot of difference coming here as a professional or as an amateur. I still feel the same when I am on the golf course," she said. "It is pretty cool to have a big bag and have your name on the bag and be out on the range and not to be the only one with a stand bag."
Leadbetter is certain the winning will come.
"This is all part of the learning curve, really. It hasn't been done before. She's a pioneer," he said. "That is the goal, to get out there and win. There's no doubt she's going to win, and win a lot. One has to remember she doesn't play as many tournaments as other girls her age. When you're limiting how many (events) you play in, and against the best players in the world, men and women, the chances of winning are less. She could win (against girls her age) with half a set of clubs in her bag."