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Wie needs to learn to win

1/11/2005 - Michelle Wie

If last year's foray into the world of men's professional golf at the Sony Open proved anything for Michelle Wie, it's that she deserved another chance.

With nobody giving her a snowball's chance in Oahu of making the cut at the first full-field event of the year on the PGA Tour schedule, Wie, now 15, came within one stroke of making it to the weekend.

It was a phenomenal achievement for a girl who is not yet old enough to drive and still just a sophomore in high school.

And it was a hit for Sony, which got more attention for its golf tournament than would have ever been imaginable without Wie in the field. Let's face it, Wie is a marketing phenomenon in the making, and the second PGA Tour event of the season played during the meat of the NFL playoffs is hardly going to generate a yawn outside of the golf world.

Wie made the tournament matter, and she'll do so again this week.

But this is where the situation gets tricky for Wie. Does she continue to test herself against professional golfers, taking sponsor exemptions on the LPGA Tour as well? Or does she concentrate on beating people her own age?

Wie's lost at last summer's U.S. Women's Amateur pointed out again that being a prodigy does not guarantee victory. Wie lost in the second round of the tournament to In-Bee Park 1-up after squandering a 2-up lead with three holes to play. She three-putted the final green from 15 feet.

And that was probably more pressure than Wie ever faced playing in an LPGA Tour event.

The reason? She was expected to win that match at the Women's Amateur. Nobody expects her win -- at least not yet -- on the LPGA Tour. And when you are out of contention, how much pressure do you really feel when there is no paycheck on the line.

Yes, Wie blew it at the amateur -- she didn't defend her Public Links title, either -- which is why she needs to put herself in that position more often.

"This is my opinion ... there's an art form to winning," said Tiger Woods, who was asked about Wie at last week's Mercedes Championships. "And learning how to win different ways, learning how to win when you're dominating, learning how to win when you don't have anything at all, somehow you've got to gut it out and somehow win. There's so many different ways that you can win a golf tournament. I think I've gone through all of that, so I've learned.

"And it's served me very well once I got out here, because I found it's the same, so no matter what level I'm playing at you still have to overcome the same inner demons and the same process. And I think from that standpoint, I think what she's doing might hurt her ... From my own personal experience, I think winning breeds winning. My dad always believed that if I wasn't able to win at this level, we weren't moving up another level."

Wie tied for 13th at the U.S. Women's Open and was fourth at the Kraft Nabisco, LPGA majors. Those were impressive performances, but really, how much pressure did she feel? Despite her fame, nobody expects her to win those tournaments. At least not yet.

Meanwhile, Wie is not learning how to win. She is not "dominating" at her level, which for her would probably considered the amateur circuit. Sure, many of those players are not as good as Wie. Maybe none of them are close. But everyone will raise their games to try and beat her. And for Wie, learning to deal with that kind of pressure will be invaluable.

Nobody is suggesting she should give up the LPGA experience or playing this week's Sony, which is in her hometown of Honolulu on a course she knows well. But she has plenty of time for professional events. Wie is all of 15, still a good 10 years away from the beginning of her prime. If she isn't going to turn pro, she should use the opportunity to play against her peers.

It will only help her in the long run.

Five Things To Bank On
1. Two-time defending champion Ernie Els will be in contention again. The guy loves Waialae. He has shot 16 consecutive rounds in the 60s and is 56 under par during that stretch. In his last four appearances, Els has finished no worse than fifth.

2. There are 25 players in the Sony field who played last week at the Mercedes Championship, and you'll likely hear them say there is no bigger difference on the PGA Tour than going from Kapalua to Waialae Country Club. The terrain, the greens, the wind ... it's a big change this week.

3. Michelle Wie will need to hit the ball closer to the pin in order to make the cut. Last year, when she missed by a single shot, she did so with a second-round 68 that included two birdie putts longer than 50 feet. Her only close-in birdie was from 4 feet.

4. The father-son combo of Craig and Kevin Stadler will be an interesting sub-plot. Craig, the Champions Tour player of the year in 2004, is still fully exempt on the PGA Tour due to his 2003 victory at the B.C. Open. Kevin earned a PGA Tour card by finishing among the top 20 on the Nationwide Tour.

5. Last year produced 11 first-time winners on the PGA Tour and plenty of players without a victory get a chance for their first win this week. Among the best still searching for the elusive first title are Harrison Frazar, who lost in a playoff at the Sony to Ernie Els last year. Among others in the field without a win are Joe Ogilvie, Briny Baird, Arron Oberholser, Ted Purdy, Hank Kuehne and Tim Petrovic.


Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.