Guest writer

Off the Fringe


Sunday, May 27, 2001

Wie may break down
gender barriers


MICHELLE WIE'S easy win in last weekend's Jennie K. Wilson Invitational was one of those believe-it-or-not stories in the history of Hawaii women's golf. To capture the islands' most prestigious women's amateur event at age 11, and by nine shots, is a little off the charts.

Remember, this is golf we're talking about, not gymnastics.

By winning so convincingly and at such a young age, Wie is redefining the boundaries of what's possible in women's golf.

But while everyone else is focused on her age, Wie herself is focused on breaking more important ground. She isn't satisfied with beating the girls. She wants to beat the boys, too.

This is hardly surprising. Wie is no ordinary 11-year-old. She stands 5-foot-9, wears a size-11 shoes and powers her drives 270 yards. That's 40 to 50 yards longer than her Jennie K. opponents, and far longer than most men.

What's more, as a young phenom Wie faces an unusual dilemma. To continue to grow and improve she has to be fed a diet of increasingly stiffer competition. When you are in the sixth grade at Punahou School and you have already thrashed the best women golfers the state has to offer, where do you go for that competition?

One place you go is to the mainland, and Wie is already doing that.

Last summer, at the age of 10, she became the youngest golfer to ever qualify for any USGA event at the Women's National Public Links Championship.

Three weeks ago, she traveled to Phoenix to try to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. Although she was not successful, she posted a very respectful 76 and consistently out drove her two LPGA playing partners.

Here in Hawaii, however, Wie will be best served by competing against the men. And she is already doing that, too. This past January, her father entered her in the qualifier for the Sony Open in Hawaii, the men's PGA tour event held at the Waialae Country Club.

She shot an 82 on a 7,200 yard course. She also played in the most recent men's State Amateur Stroke-Play Championship at Pearl Country Club.

POWER HAS ALWAYS BEEN what separates men and women golfers, but Wie totally takes away that advantage. She also has a long, stylish, technically sound swing, a deft putting touch and remarkable concentration and composure.

With continued instruction and experience, there's no telling what Wie could achieve. It's highly possible that the best junior golfer in the state will soon be a girl, and the best high school golfer as well. There may even come a time when Wie wins the men's state amateur championship and more.

Then again, all of this may never come to pass. Golf is a capricious sport. Burnout and unreasonable expectations can easily derail a young phenom.

Nevertheless, watching Wie you get the sense that it won't be long before gender barriers in sports like golf are crossed.

After winning the Jennie K. last week, a television reporter asked Wie if she had ambitions to play the LPGA Tour. Wie said she would get her college degree first but that, yes, she would like to play the LPGA Tour.

Then she playfully added, "... and maybe the PGA Tour."

Only she wasn't kidding.

Grady Timmons has been writing about golf in Hawaii
for 25 years and playing it even longer. He can be
reached at:

E-mail to Sports Editor

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