Wie will need all the support she can get

Originally Published: January 13, 2004
By Andy North | Special to ESPN.com

HONOLULU, Hawaii -- Fourteen-year-old Michelle Wie will be right at home (literally) this week at the Sony Open, but she'll nevertheless face the longest of odds when she becomes the third female to tee it up on the PGA Tour in the last year.

Wie, who lives and goes to high school here in Honolulu, is extremely comfortable on the Waialae course and will be surrounded by family, friends and fans all pulling for her to make the cut.

She already has two men's events under her belt, missing the cut at a Canadian tour event last summer and again at a Nationwide Tour event in September. Her biggest problem at both was with her short game, but that doesn't necessarily mean she'll have similar struggles here. Even though the competition will be greater and the setup tougher, she'll be much more comfortable at Waialae than she was at those other events. Being familiar with the course is going to help her enormously (she's played there about two dozen times). She'll know how putts are going to break before she hits them and has hit chip shots and bunker shots from every possible position. That's a huge advantage.

I wouldn't be surprised if she has a couple of good rounds (she says her lowest score at Waialae was a 65, and at Monday qualifying last year she shot a 73) and has a chance to make the cut. A very slim chance, but a chance all the same. The great thing about golf is that you don't play against anyone else. You play against yourself and you play against the course.

The players showed a lot of support for Wie at the Mercedes pro-am last week. They respect what she's trying to do and recognize her as a uniquely gifted golfer. At the same time, some -- Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Annika Sorenstam, to name a few -- also question why she plays in so many professional events (she played in nine last year, including seven LPGA tournaments), suggesting she learn to win on the junior level instead of testing herself against players out of her league.

I couldn't agree with them more. I believe kids should play at their own level and learn how to be dominant at that level. Developing players need to learn how to win and learn how to handle losing. Perhaps most importantly, they need to experience losing when they're the person who's expected to win.

We as parents need to understand that no matter their ability, our kids are still kids. In the last 15 years, many kids haven't been able to enjoy their childhood because they've been off competing in various different sports. They've probably enjoyed themselves, but they've missed what other children their age have been doing. Those are five or 10 years you can't relive when you're 25.

The only way you can rationalize a 14-year-old girl (albeit a gifted 14-year-old girl who can hit a golf ball 300 yards) playing against the best players in the world is the fact the event is being held in her hometown. If this was the Western Open in middle-America, this would be crazy.

The lowdown on Waialae

They're both on Hawaiian islands, but those are the only similarities between Kapalua, site of last week's Mercedes, and Waialae, where they'll tee it up this week. The two courses couldn't be more dissimilar.

Kapalua is a really big course, with giant greens, wide fairways and more slope than any other course on tour. Waialae, on the other hand, is a narrow course on a very flat piece of property. The elevation change through the whole golf course isn't more than 5 or 6 feet. Kapalua features about 300-400 feet of elevation change. This is about as big a difference between courses one week to the next the players will experience all year.

It's hard to predict what scoring is going to be like because it depends on the wind. We've seen years here where it took in the 20s under par to win it, and other years it's been single digits. It's a fun course to play, a course that will yield low scores to players who can find the fairways but one that will also prove a headache to those who struggle off the tee. The rough isn't really long, but it's Bermuda grass, so the ball goes right to the bottom and it's hard to pitch out. Accuracy will be at a premium, you'll see players hit some irons or 3-woods off the tees to try to hit the fairways.

All types of players have won here. Long bomber Ernie Els took the title last year, while some of the champions before him -- particularly Brad Faxon in 2001 and Jeff Sluman in 1999 -- are more precision guys.

The field this week is terrific. Twenty-three of the 30 guys who played the Mercedes Championships last week jumped islands to the Sony, and we have seven of the top 10 on last year's money list. It's one of the best fields they've ever had here.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North serves as an analyst for ESPN and will be covering the Sony Open in Hawaii all week.

Andy North joined ESPN as an on-course golf reporter in September, 1992. He serves as both an analyst and a reporter in ESPN's championship golf coverage as well as analyst for ESPN's preview shows and SportsCenter reports from major tournaments.

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