Sorenstam, Wie set to cross paths

Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. (AP) Annika Sorenstam has won 48 LPGA tournaments, six of them majors. She is a Hall of Famer, the undisputed best in her sport.

Yet she cannot fathom the talent of 14-year-old Michelle Wie.

''I started playing golf when I was 12,'' Sorenstam said. ''I can't even relate.''

This week, the sport's dominating present and awesome future cross paths in the shadow of the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.

Sorenstam's season debut Thursday at the Safeway International is in many ways overshadowed by the presence of Wie, the 6-footer with the bright smile and powerhouse swing that routinely sends drives 300 yards or more.

The ninth-grader from Hawaii has seen the spotlight grow brighter with her near miss against the men at the PGA's Sony Open in January, where she fell one shot shy of making the cut.

Sorenstam, who played well but missed the cut in last year's PGA Colonial, marveled at Wie's performance.

''I mean, I'm impressed,'' Sorenstam said. ''I had a chance to play in a PGA event and it was really tough, so my hat's off to her. I think she did incredible.''

Wie takes the ever-increasing attention in stride.

''It's fine,'' she said at a news conference after her pro-am round Tuesday. ''Without you guys, it's a little bit boring. It spices it up a little bit.''

She had a gallery for Sunday's practice round at the Superstition Mountain Golf Club. A hundred or so followed her in her pro-am round on Tuesday with tour pro Jill McGill.

Those who have toiled for years on the women's tour might be expected to harbor some resentment toward this kid from Hawaii. Not Sorenstam.

''On the contrary, I think she's good for the game,'' Sorenstam said. ''I think it's great to have her here. She's a great asset. She's fun to watch. She's young. She's powerful. She's the next generation.''

The Sony Open was Wie's first PGA experience. LPGA events are nothing new. She played in her first two years ago at age 12. This is her 11th, and she made the cut in six of seven last year.

''I don't expect to win, because I've never really won anything,'' she said. ''But this year I've worked hard on my game and I want to win a couple.''

Wie always aims high.

''If you put your goals really high that makes you practice harder,'' she said. ''It's not like you're going to reach them in a quick time. These are really long-term goals, and that makes me work harder.''

Ten years from now, she wants to be playing both the PGA and LPGA tours. She wants to someday tee off in the Masters.

''You've got to remember she's 14,'' Sorenstam said. ''She's setting some high goals. She's dreaming right now. She sure has the potential. Time will tell.''

Wie has seven invitations to play in PGA events this year, but hasn't accepted any yet.

This is the first of six 2004 LPGA events Wie plans to enter under a sponsor's exemption.

She moves on to next week's Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage, Calif., the season's first major.

She also plans to play in the Michelob ULTRA Open in Williamsburg, Va., May 6-9; the Evian Masters in Paris on July 21-24; the Wendy's Championship for Children in Dublin, Ohio, Aug. 19-22; and the Samsung World Championship in Woodland, Texas, Oct. 14-17.

''Let her come and enjoy, and see what happens,'' Sorenstam said. ''I'm not going to analyze her future. I mean, hopefully she makes the right decisions and she becomes as good as she can be.''

LPGA rules prohibit anyone under 18 from playing full-time on the tour, although Wie could petition for an exemption, perhaps in three years. In the meantime, her potential seems beyond anything anyone has seen in golf, except perhaps from her hero, Tiger Woods.

''I guess I am a little bit different,'' Wie said. ''I mean, how many 14-year-olds are like six-feet tall? But I'm glad I'm different. I love being unique. Being different is cool.''

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