Teen golf star Wie leads a double life

Posted: Sunday, October 24, 2004

 

  Fifteen year-old golfer Michelle Wie signs autographs as her father B.J., left facing, and mother, Bo, wait for her in a golf cart following her round on Oct. 16, 2004 at the Samsung World Championship in Palm Desert, Calif. On a golf course, she's a celebrity, center stage in an international spotlight. She's also a 10th grader who hangs out at the mall, plays video games and faces the usual challenges of teenhood, including how to keep chats with pals on her new cell phone within the allotted 100 monthly minutes. Any extra charges will come straight out of her allowance, Michelle Wie's father says. AP Photo/Laura Rauch

Fifteen year-old golfer Michelle Wie signs autographs as her father B.J., left facing, and mother, Bo, wait for her in a golf cart following her round on Oct. 16, 2004 at the Samsung World Championship in Palm Desert, Calif. On a golf course, she's a celebrity, center stage in an international spotlight. She's also a 10th grader who hangs out at the mall, plays video games and faces the usual challenges of teenhood, including how to keep chats with pals on her new cell phone within the allotted 100 monthly minutes. Any extra charges will come straight out of her allowance, Michelle Wie's father says.

AP Photo/Laura Rauch

PALM DESERT, Calif. On a golf course, she's a celebrity in the glare of the international spotlight.

Back home in Honolulu, Michelle Wie is a high school sophomore who hangs out at the mall, plays video games and faces the usual teen challenges such as how to keep chats with pals on her new cell phone within the allotted 100 monthly minutes.

Extra charges will come straight out of her allowance, her father warns.

''I don't know how that will work out,'' she said, smiling and shaking her head.

Wie, who tied for 13th in the Samsung World Championship last weekend to wrap up her seven LPGA appearances this year, skillfully balances a double life.

''I'm not stupid enough that I would not enjoy myself coming out here. I'm not really that stupid. If I'm not enjoying myself, I wouldn't be coming out here and playing,'' Wie said.

''I'm having a great time. It's kind of fun missing school and I'm having a lot of fun traveling with my family.''

Some times are more enjoyable than others.

''It's more fun when your putts are going in,'' Wie said, grinning.

Proclaimed by Laura Davies as the LPGA's future Tiger Woods, the slender, 6-foot teenager with the silky smooth swing launches 300-yard drives and is the same type of golfing prodigy Woods once was.

''She's impressive, very talented,'' six-time LPGA player of the year Annika Sorenstam said. ''She hits the ball a long way and she's very mature on the golf course.

''I love her golf swing.''

Wie, who played her first LPGA tournament at age 12, has competed in 17 women's tour events. She also played in the PGA's Sony Open last January, where she was at even-par through 36 holes, missing the cut by one stroke and finishing tied for 80th ahead of 48 men.

This year, she finished fourth in one of the women's majors, tied for 13th in another and finished out of the top 20 only once.

Her father, B.J., is a professor at the University of Hawaii. Her mother, Bo, works in real estate. They are determined their daughter enjoys the best of both worlds.

''Some people may think it's really challenging for parents to take care of a well-known golfer,'' B.J. said. ''We haven't changed anything. Being a young golf star is different from being a young star in Hollywood, or in music.

''She likes movies, reading, music. She makes good grades, and since she mostly plays in tournaments during summer vacation, she only misses a couple of weeks of school.''

Her classes sound like a load, but Michelle insists that she enjoys them.

''I'm taking Japanese and a new class, conceptual physics, it's really fun,'' she said. ''I'm also taking trig and English, Asian history and foundation art.''

''She's been able to handle all the attention and is having a normal childhood,'' Bo said. ''The only difference is, she plays golf.''

B.J. said the goal is for Michelle to lead an ordinary and extraordinary life.

''We want her to have it normal, then abnormal, become a very, very great golfer, very rich, with a rich personal life,'' he said. ''Most of all, we want her to be happy.''

Michelle, who turned 15 on Oct. 11, is a friendly, articulate youngster who seems quite happy.

''She should just have fun playing now, and I think that's what she's doing,'' said Davies, a winner of four majors. ''When she turns pro, it becomes a job.''

Her amateur status does keep some pressure off Wie she's never had to stand over a ''money putt.''

When she returned home from the world championship last weekend, Wie left without a $15,500 check she would have received for tying for 13th in the elite 20-player field. Her best finish in 17 LPGA events, a fourth in the Kraft Nabisco last March, would have been worth $82,000.

She has passed up some $250,000 in prize money. Then there are the millions she could earn in endorsements.

Wie, who said she's not sure when she will turn pro, avoids the money list.

''Whenever I look, they always put a zero next to my name. I get mad about that, so I don't look. I did look to see how much I would have gotten after the U.S. Open, and it's pretty cool,'' she said, referring to the $60,000 or so she would have received for tying for 13th.

''I think I have to be a little bit older and more mature to handle that kind of money. I think I'm making a good choice right now.''

Bo said Michelle intends to give back to the sport and to society, noting that she already is honorary chair of a library foundation in Honolulu and active in other charitable work. Bo cannot help but feel a parent's sense of pride.

''At the Kraft Nabisco, when the spectators gave her a standing ovation as she walked up to the 18th green, some of them even bowed,'' Bo said. ''I was crying.''



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