Girl on the verge

In May, at the final round of the LPGA's Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill Resort & Spa in Williamsburg, Va., Michelle Wie stepped to the tee on the 458-yard, par-5 15th hole. The teenager effortlessly crushed her drive 270 yards; then, with 185 yards to the green, she pulled out a 5-iron (yes, a 5-iron!) for her second shot. The ball landed three feet from the hole. Wie tapped in for an eagle.

It is a performance like this that makes spectators' jaws drop, newspaper columnists rhapsodize and potential sponsors drool. (A Nike executive has been observing Wie at tournaments this year.) It's also performances like this that earned her a remarkable exemption into July's U.S. Women's Open from the USGA. Add a bubbly personality and willowy physique, and Wie could one day be the most exciting player in the game. Like another phenom named Tiger, she executes feats on the golf course that are preternatural. In the past year alone, she has already won the Women's Amateur Public Links Championship (as the youngest player ever to win an adult USGA event), nearly made the cut in a PGA Tour event (the Sony Open) and finished fourth in the LPGA's first major. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan recently described Wie as "the Next Great Thing in sports. This is a young lady who has her act together the way most 30-year-olds don't," says Brennan. "If you were at the drawing board, conjuring the perfect girl for this sport at this time, you would draw Michelle Wie and her parents."

What's it like to be a golfing Mozart? On the course, Wie is composing symphonies. But inside this teen beats the heart of a fierce competitor. "I like to be the first to do anything," she says. "I like to be the best."

You're only 14, and you finished fourth at a major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, this year. What was that experience like?
On the plane going back to Hawaii after the tournament, I told my dad, "I can't wait to play again!" I just had this feeling of adrenaline, of knowing the importance of making a putt. I wasn't really playing that well; but beginning at the 11th hole in the final round, I made several putts of five to seven feet to save par. I was grinding. So I was really proud of myself.

What do you want to accomplish this year?
My goal is to win one LPGA tournament and to finish in the top five in the tournaments I play.

Your long-term goal is to play in the Masters. How?
As long as I stay an amateur, I can qualify by winning the men's U.S. Amateur or the men's U.S. Public Links.

Why do you want to play on the PGA Tour? Isn't the LPGA Tour good enough?
I get bored easily. I like challenges. I've played against men my whole life. I want to play against the best players in the world, men and women.

You were beating your parents, who were practically scratch golfers, when you were 8. Do you feel like you're part of some bigger plan?
Yeah, I think God destined that I play. I think it's all in the books already.

You've begun working with the famous coach David Leadbetter. What's he teaching you?
He made my swing shorter. And he's teaching me new shots, like a fade and how to pitch from the long rough. He doesn't talk a lot, but I understand exactly what he's saying. The day before the Nabisco, I called him and asked him what to do because my tee shots were hooking on the par 3s. He explained it to me on the phone. He told me I was teeing the ball up too high, that I should tee it lower and put it back more in my stance and hit it 70 or 80 percent. I understand him completely.

You're playing a new driver this year. Why?
Last year, I was playing with a TaylorMade driver with 7.5 degrees of loft. I got a lot of roll with it, but I wasn't hitting it straight enough or getting enough lift. David thought I needed a higher launch angle. I went to Callaway on February 20 and I got a 9.5-degree Great Big Bertha II 415. My drives are going straighter now.

When you're not playing, what do you do?
Besides school? I go to the mall with my friends. Last night, we played video games and we were, like, totally crazy. Then we went to Cold Stone, the ice cream store in Honolulu. They mix hot fudge and other stuff into the ice cream. It's really good.

What's your practice routine at home?
Well, school ends every day at 2:30. My parents pick me up and we go to the golf course. I play nine holes, then I practice putting for 30 minutes to an hour. Then I go home at 6:30, and I exercise to strengthen my core muscles and improve my flexibility for 30 minutes. I ride the bike for an hour, I eat dinner and finish my homework, and maybe I'll watch some TV.

What do you like to watch?
I like MTV and VH1, and Punk'd and SpongeBob. I love SpongeBob. He's really stupid.

Who's your favorite actor?
I have a lot of favorites. I like Johnny Depp. He's so cool. I've seen Pirates of the Caribbean three times. I like Angelina Jolie, too.

What about music?
Right now I'm between Third Eye Blind, Coldplay and Bowling For Soup. And Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Have you read any good books lately?
I loved Seabiscuit. And I love Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl. It's so weird.

Your favorite music and books all seem to have a little edge to them. Do you like edge?
I love edge.

What does it mean to you?
I don't know. I'm kind of in between a goody-goody and a rebel. I'm not bad, but I'm not good either. I'm a little crazy.

There's a lot of talk about when you're going to turn pro. What are your plans?
People ask me a lot if I'm going to petition the LPGA to turn pro before I'm 18. I don't think so. I'm having fun playing as an amateur. I feel like I should wait until I get mature, until I know the importance of money and I can manage it smartly.

Do you understand the value of money?
Well, I think I do, but I probably don't.

You've said you wanted to get "Tiger money" when you turn pro. You quoted a number of $100 million once. Are you serious about that?
Hopefully. I think it's pretty cool. I mean, if someone wants to give you, like, $100 million, it's hard to say no. But I don't want to accept that kind of money right now. I'd feel burdened by it.

Do you get an allowance?
I earn my money. I play against my dad's friends on Saturday mornings. We play $5 a hole for 18 holes. I won $50 once. But I'm cheap. I save my money. I have my own savings account to get a car after I get my driver's license.

Being in the public eye is tough. People have criticized your dad and said you shouldn't play at this level at your age. Does that hurt your feelings?
Yeah, at first it did. I think before you criticize someone you should get to know them. The thing that makes me really mad is when people compare me to the young tennis stars who burned out. They're assuming the same thing for me. But they don't know me. I think my parents are doing a good job. If it looks like I'll grow up and wear a nose ring or do drugs, then I guess they can make a judgment. But I'm not doing any of those things now.

Why do you think people say those things about you and your family?
I don't think they've ever seen anyone like me before.

Do you have any superstitions on the course?
Ladybugs are good luck. If you see a ladybug—but it has to be red—then you pick it up and put it on your putter. This year there were a lot of them at the Kraft Nabisco.

Who's the pink teddy bear on your golf bag?
He's my friend. His name is Sam. He's been with me a long time. He's a goody-goody. He's always telling me to do good stuff. He calms me down. I talk to him, but not as much as I used to.

You're six feet tall. Are you still growing?
I hope not. But lately I noticed my pants are getting shorter.

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