Originally created 03/31/04

What does her future hold?



Everything was back to normal Tuesday for Michelle Wie, if there is such a thing anymore.

She returned to the ninth grade at Punahou School in Honolulu, back to studying math and history instead of the break in the slick greens at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

She could have told her friends that she finished fourth in the first major of the year and was within two shots of the lead at one point Sunday. If they found that boring, Wie could have mentioned the $96,000 she turned down at two tournaments - enough to be ninth on the LPGA Tour money list - to remain an amateur.

Meanwhile, her father was busy sending an e-mail to decline a sponsor's exemption for his 14-year-old daughter to play a PGA Tour event this summer. B.J. Wie declined to say which one.

The future has never looked brighter or been filled with so many questions. By now, there should be no doubt the 6-foot teenager is the biggest golf prodigy since Tiger Woods.

Figuring out where it leads - and how soon she gets there - remains a work in progress.

Wie played in the final group of an LPGA major championship as a 13-year-old. A year later, she shot 68 on the PGA Tour and missed the cut by a single shot, then returned to the Nabisco and was in contention from start to finish until she ended up alone in fourth, four shots out of the lead.

She says she wants to go to college - but that's still four years away.

Her father says he is comfortable with the LPGA Tour's age limit of 18, but what happens if Wie were to win a tournament? What if it's the U.S. Women's Open, the richest prize in women's golf worth $558,000? B.J. Wie considered the future while watching his daughter blend in with the best on the LPGA Tour .

"Michelle is really interested in going to Stanford," he said Tuesday. "But we're looking at alternatives, based on her desire to attend college."

One scenario: She goes to Stanford and plays for the Cardinal. The only thing left to decide is whether she competes for the men's team or the women's team.

Another scenario: She goes to college and plays the LPGA Tour in her spare time.

"This is a new route that could be a good example for other young players," B.J. Wie said.

Another possibility - the one that seems most realistic - is for Wie to petition LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw to turn pro before her 18th birthday. The precedent is Aree Song, who has a lot in common with Wie.

Song - previously known as Aree Wonglukiet - was 13 when she played in the final group at Nabisco four years ago. She played on the Futures Tour as an amateur, finished fifth at the U.S. Women's Open last year and signed with Florida before deciding to go through LPGA Q-school last fall.

"There could be nothing better you can do," Song said, referring to her career. "It certainly beats school."

Song, who turns 18 in May, had a chance to win her first major as a pro by making a 30-foot eagle on the final hole. She came up one shot short when Grace Park made a 6-foot birdie to win.

"Aree made the right decision for her and her family," B.J. Wie said. "And (Votaw) made the right decision. Physically and mentally, she is a very good player."

Even so, B.J. Wie insists this is not the path for his daughter.

He is finishing a sabbatical from the University of Hawaii, where he is a transportation professor, and one can only suspect the bills are mounting. Equipment companies already are showing up, and the money offered when Wie turns pro probably will be more than anyone else gets in women's golf.

Her father, however, has more than golf in mind.

"It's highly unlikely that Michelle turns pro without attending college," he said. "She thinks college is really good for her. She believes she needs a transition period, departing from us, doing chores like laundry, cooking for herself."

The future seems so far away, especially since Wie is still in the ninth grade. Then she shoots 72-68 at the Sony Open and is among the leaders in the final round of an LPGA major for the second year in a row, and the future looks like tomorrow.

Wie already has a full plate after school gets out. She's playing in the Curtis Cup on June 12-13, then has to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open before trying to defend her title in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at the end of June. The U.S. Women's Open would follow that, and then there is a trip to Paris for the Evian Masters.

She already has a schedule like a pro.

The question is, how much longer before Wie starts making regular trips to the bank.