When will Illinois see Wie?

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

Michelle Wie

CHICAGO - Ladies and gentlemen, take your eyes off Tiger for a moment and take a hard look at the Tigress. My friends, you are seeing golf's future and possibly the best 14-year-old golfer ever.

Michelle Wie, the 9th grader from Hawaii who measured her talents against the men at the recent Sony Open on the PGA Tour's Hawaiian swing in January, is a smarter, more poised, more astounding golfer than Tiger Woods was when he was a 9th grader. That's the common belief on the Tour. Even the winner of the Sony Open, Ernie Els, said, "She's got the best swing of anybody I've ever seen."

Sure, Wie didn't make the cut. But she missed it by just on stroke and in the second round shot a 68 against some of the best players in the game. That score was the lowest by a female and by the youngest person to play on the PGA Tour.

If that doesn't get the heart of every Chicago-area golfer pumping a mile a minute, then you must be dead. Not only is she a phenomenon to watch, we want to know when we can watch her here.

Wie Chicago bound?

Two regularly-scheduled golf events are set for the summer. As always the Western Open comes to Cog Hill in Lemont, Illinois and the LPGA's Kellogg-Keebler Classic is preparing to come back to Stonebridge Country Club in Aurora, about 35 miles west of Chicago. This is a big market, a big golf town, a bonanza for everyone involved. So, let's get Michelle Wie to
tee it up at both.

Cog Hill Is that possible? Are people frantically, diligently working on it? Yes and no.

Wie plans to play six LPGA events this year. There may be more if it works into her schedule. As of now, the Kellogg-Keebler is not on the list. Wie plans to try to qualify for the 2004 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links or the U.S. Amateur Public Links and qualifying rounds for the events will bump right up against the Kellogg-Keebler set for June 4-6. It would be a very tight fit to get her to come to Stonebridge. But don't count her out yet. It still depends on which USGA championship she's going to put her efforts toward.

As for the Western? Forget it, sorry to say. She jumped right into the Sony without hesitation. After all, her stated goal is to someday play on both the LPGA and PGA tours. Wouldn't the prestigious Western be a great place to continue her training for the completion of that goal? Sure it would, but scheduling, once again, is the problem. The Women's U.S. Open is scheduled for the same week as the Western Open, July 1-4. Guess which one the world's best young woman player is going to choose?

Wie just have to wait

Sorry, this doesn't sound very promising for a Wie-filled summer. But remember, she's young, very young. Wie plans another 3 years of high school, plans to attend Stanford, and then attempt to qualify for the PGA at Q-school. She'll be around awhile and her chances of coming to Chicago will improve each year.

In 2007, the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship will be held at Cantigny Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois. If Wie is still working on her golf resume, and there's no indication she won't be, coming to the Chicago area to claim that trophy would be marvelous for her and tremendous for us.

Just when we were getting used to watching Annika-the-machine tear her way through the LPGA Tour and flirt with regularly competing with the men, along comes Wie to brazenly step forward and announce that her plans are to be a part time, if not full time player on the PGA Tour and to someday play in The Masters. The Masters? That bastion of male dominance and arrogance? How' s she going to do that?

Simple, my friend. If she wins the U.S. Amateur title she gets to compete for the green jacket. Girl or not, she wins an official invitation to Augusta. And don't think for one minute she doesn't know how she's going to get there. Just like Tiger, she has a list of golf goals, she looks at them often, and works daily to make those dreams reality. She 's got a long way to go, but only in time, not in talent.

Wie stands 6-feet tall, is poised, smiles a lot, and, oh yeah, just happens to hit the ball 300 yards off the tee. She focuses and competes like Woods and at the Sony Open scored better than 29 male professionals on the first day and 83 on the second finishing ahead of John Cook, Hinsdale's Jeff Sluman and Scott Hoch. Plus, the gallery following Wie was the largest crowd the event had ever seen.

That kind of play has tournament directors all over the country thinking of ways to get Michelle Wie on the tee sheet. But not everyone can, and not everyone will. But the Chicago area is a rich place for professional golf and Michelle is not going to forget about us. We've just got to learn to be a little more patient.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed."


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