Originally created 05/16/03

Teenage girl to play Nationwide Tour event



BOISE, Idaho -- Teenager Michelle Wie has accepted a sponsor's exemption to play in the Boise Open on the Nationwide Tour, becoming the first female to compete on the PGA Tour's developmental circuit.

Wie, an eighth-grader in Honolulu who already hits the ball longer than some PGA Tour players, will be the third female this year to go head-to-head with the men.

Annika Sorenstam, the No. 1 woman in golf, will become the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour next week at the Colonial.

Suzy Whaley, a Connecticut club pro, last year qualified for the Greater Hartford Open by winning a PGA sectional tournament from a shorter set of tees. That tournament is at the end of the July.

Wie already will have experience by the time she gets to the Boise Open Sept. 15-21. She also has been invited to play in the Canadian Tour's Bay Mills Open Players' Championship on Aug. 21-24 in Brimley, Mich.

"She is exploring unlimited possibilities," said her father, B.J. Wie, a University of Hawaii professor. "I hope she makes a good impression on the Nationwide Tour players."

The 13-year-old Wie said her 290-yard drives shouldn't intimidate the men. After all, she only hits her 4-iron about 195 yards.

"If I play good, then I think they should be able to practice more and beat me later on," Wie said.

She said female golfers generally are "genetically weaker" and that "they hit the ball a little less than the men. But that's the only difference that I see."

Wie already has made an impression on PGA Tour players who have watched her play during the Hawaii swing in January. Tom Lehman first called her the "Big Wiesy" because her swing reminds him of Ernie Els.

In Janaury, a half-dozen players stopped practicing on the range at the Sony Open to watch Wie hit her driver, belting the ball about 285 yards.

On Monday, Wie tried to qualify for the Sony Open and shot 1-over 73 at Pearl Country Club, coming up six strokes short of earning a spot in the field. Still, she tied for 47th, beating more than 40 players - some of whom play the Nationwide Tour.

On the LPGA Tour, Wie shot a 6-under 66 in March at the Kraft Nabisco Championship - the first major of the year - to get into the final group Sunday. She finished tied for ninth.

"Anybody who can hit the ball 300 yards on a consistent basis and can shoot 66 can play in my tournament," said Larry Johnston, president and chief executive officer of Albertsons grocery stores, sponsor of the Boise Open.

However, as an amateur, Wie is ineligible for the $108,000 prize.

Wie started playing golf with her parents when she was 7 and won her first tournament when she was 9.