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Golf: TEENAGE DREAM; Hawaii starlet is face of the future.

Byline: MARK LAMPORT-STOKES

SWEDEN'S Annika Sorenstam is the dominant figure in women's golf but Hawaiian teenager Michelle Wie is unquestionably the face of the future.

The 13-year-old Wie, who stands 1.83 metres tall and can power the ball more than 300 yards, has begun her career in record-shattering style, leaving her LPGA Tour rivals gasping at what she might achieve in the years to come.

Her victory at the 27th U.S. women's amateur public links championship over the weekend, when she became the youngest player to clinch the title, was simply the latest example of a growing list of exceptional achievements.

Wie started playing the game as a fouryear-old and fired a round of 64 at the age of 10.

A straight A student, she competed against the men in Hawaii this January, when she tried unsuccessfully to qualify for the PGA Tour's Sony Open.

In March, she underlined her extraordinary talent by finishing joint ninth in the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club, the first of the year's four women's majors.

That performance was made even more memorable because she played with Sorenstam in the final group on the last day.

She is currently playing on a sponsor's exemption at the LPGA Classic at Northfield, New Jersey. In August she is set to play against the men on the Canadian Tour and in September she will compete on the Nationwide Tour.

The Hawaiian youngster, dubbed 'Big Wiesy' by 1996 British Open champion Tom Lehman because her flowing, lazy swing reminds him of Ernie Els, has also qualified for next month's U.S women's amateur.

Wie has already been compared to men's world number one Tiger Woods and it seems certain she will revolutionise the women's game with her exceptional length, remarkable control and unwavering self-belief.

'She is the best ever,' said Britain's Laura Davies, one of the longest hitters in the history of the women's game.

'The only trouble is that she could become bored of the game by the time she is 18 or 19. Tiger Woods is the only person you can compare her to.'

Sorenstam, who became the first woman in 58 years to compete in a PGA Tour event at the Colonial tournament this May, echoes the sentiments expressed by Davies.

'She has a great future ahead of her and I think she is the sign of a new generation,' the 32-year-old Swede said of Wie. 'And it's a great sign.'

Last Sunday, Wie beat Thailand's former NCAA champion Virada Nirapathpongporn one up at Ocean Hammock Golf Club to become, a full five months before her 14th birthday, the youngest player to win any adult United States Golf Association (USGA) event.

Laura Baugh was 16 when she won the 1971 U.S. women's amateur and Catherine Cartwright was 17 when she clinched the women's public links crown in 2000. The youngest player to win any USGA event was Aree Wongluekiet, who secured the U.S. girls' junior amateur aged 13 years three months in 1999.

'I'm happy out of my mind, this means a lot,' Wie told reporters after knocking in a two-foot putt for par at the 36th hole to edge out the 21-year-old Nirapathpongporn for her first title outside Hawaii.

'I've never won a national title, and the trophy is much bigger (than anything she has previously achieved).

'Golf is more fun when you take risks,' she added, after storming back in aggressive style from four holes down in the morning.

'In the afternoon, I just didn't make any putts,' Nirapathpongporn said. 'Michelle played great, that's why she deserved to win, why she's holding that big trophy.

'She's got a great future. She's not just long, she's a great ball-striker.'

That mix of length and ball-striking will almost certainly lift Wie to levels never before reached in the women's game as the future unfolds.

CAPTION(S):

'BEST EVER'... 13-year-old Michelle Wie
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 29, 2003
Words:652
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