What would you say to a 6-foot-tall, 13-year-old who hits a golf ball over 300 yards? What would you say if this golfer was a girl?
Well, she is and she does and her name is Michelle Wie.
For those of you unfamiliar with golf, hitting a 300-yard drive at any age is akin to throwing a 90-mph fast ball, running a four-minute mile or hitting a 130-mph serve. Add in the facts that she is female and just starting high school in the fall, and it's even more remarkable. And the startling stats don't end there.
"I started playing golf when I was 4 and I followed my parents on the course," said Hawaii native Michelle. Her parents, B.J. and Bo, both amateur champions in their native Korea, have given up playing the game but not studying the game.
"They are golfaholics," Michelle added with a giggle. "They are always watching Tiger [Woods] and analyzing how he's playing and they told me how to swing like him. I guess I was young and naïve and so I listened to them."
By the age of 10, she shot a round of 64, which is 6 shots under par — an accomplishment few adult golfers ever achieve.
Michelle has competed in almost every golf tournament in Hawaii. She and her parents decided that if she was to get better, she was going to have to play tougher courses and compete against more experienced golfers. So they packed up and came east for the summer, getting invitations to a number of women's pro events including the U.S. Open, where Michelle finished ninth — the highest finish for a 13-year-old ever.
She went on to win the U.S. Amateur Links Championship in July, becoming the youngest champion in any golf tournament in which adults play.
Bring on the Masters
Golf isn't just about hitting a long ball, but Michelle outdrives the longest hitter and arguably the best known golfer on the women's tour, Annika Sorenstam.
When asked if she watched Sorenstam's historic play at The Colonial, the men's professional tournament, she conceded, "I really couldn't because I had a math final coming up."
But Sorenstam has certainly seen Michelle. "When you see her hit you can't believe she is 13 and a very good golfer. She's got all the tools, that's for sure," said the No. 1 women's player.
Because she does hit the ball so far — only five men average farther — Michelle thinks she can play on the PGA, the men's professional tour. In fact, she thinks she can do it all.
"I think that would be pretty cool, playing on the PGA full-time and the LPGA full-time," she said with a shy smile.
Her ambition doesn't stop there. "Before I die I want to play in the Masters," she said.
Yes, that Masters, held at Augusta National — the club that doesn't allow women to be members, much less play in the venerated tournament. But according to Michelle, "Hootie [Johnson, Augusta National's chairman] says I can play, women can play if they qualify, and I think I can."
She may have to wait awhile. According to LPGA rules, she can not turn professional until she is 18. Besides, Michelle wants to play golf in college — at Stanford, like her idol Tiger Woods. That means no prize money and no lucrative endorsement deals for years.
Her game isn't flawless. She admits she is short on patience and long on temper. Her putting is inconsistent and her short game can be inaccurate. She gets bored practicing and "can't really focus on golf for hours because I'm not really a golfaholic or anything."
Michelle's coach, Gary Gilchrist, sees this as a positive.
"The one gift she has, [is] she can forget about the game once she walks in the front door. She thinks about her friends, she thinks about playing with her dog," he said.
That ability to forget about golf, to not be obsessed by a very obsessive game, may be her salvation. When asked what she would do if she ever had to choose between playing in a major championship and going to her high school prom, Michelle responded unabashedly, "My choice would be the prom. I don't know about my parents or anything, but prom only comes once in a lifetime."
And after all, she will have plenty of chances to win golf championships over the next 20 or 30 years.