Teen hoping to make the cut

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Teen hoping to make the cut

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INCHEON ― In what is sure to become the most anticipated golf tournament on Korean soil this year, 16-year-old female professional Michelle Wie will play in the Korean Professional Golfers Association Tour’s SK Telecom Open, starting tomorrow and wrapping up Sunday at the Sky 72 Golf Club, near the Incheon International Airport.
The American high school senior has played in seven men’s events, both on the U.S. PGA Tour and on the Japanese Tour, but this is her first men’s tournament in Korea. She turned pro in October and has two third-place finishes in two events on the 2006 Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour season.
Wie has yet to make the cut at any of the men’s tournaments: the closest she came was at the 2004 Sony Open on the PGA Tour, where she missed the cut by one. But on the Korean tour event, with a weaker field and a less severe rough on the 7,110-yard course, Wie hopes to play on the weekend.
“I want to play well and have fun this week,” she said during a press conference Monday in Incheon. “I don’t want to have any regrets after this tournament.”
Wie was referring to a couple of close calls in men’s tournaments that she said she left with regrets: in addition to the aforementioned Sony Open showing, Wie missed the cut at the 2005 John Deere Classic by two strokes after making a double bogey and bogey in two of her last four holes. She had been 2-under-par through the first two rounds.
Wie was born in Hawaii, but her parents are Korean natives. Her bloodline has been a focal point in Korea. Tournaments in which she plays are televised live on cable golf channels, and Wie has been on many covers of golf publications in the country.
Since her arrival in Korea on Saturday, Wie has thrown a ceremonial first pitch at a Korean baseball game, appeared on some TV shows, and announced plans to make donations to charities in public appearances.
Still, the teenager said, “I am not tired at all. I am eating well and getting plenty of rest. Playing golf [at a practice round Monday] helped me get over a headache I had earlier.”
She speaks rudimentary Korean, and handled questions during the press conference in Korean with help from an interpreter on only one question. Still, her obvious limits in the language restricted her to mundane platitudes and prevented the crowd from gaining much insight.
Wie's game is defined by prodigious distance off the tee ― she frequently outdrives male playing partners and reaches 300 yards on occasion ― as well as a silky smooth swing from her 6-foot frame.
As with many young golfers, Wie has trouble with her short game, but if there’s one thing in golf that comes with age, it’s touch around the green. She said she needs experience before she can find success on either the men’s or women’s tours, and added, “I want to improve my putting and become more consistent.”
Wie will begin her first round from the 10th hole at 6:59 a.m. tomorrow.
Lost in the spotlight focusing on Wie is Choi Kyoung-ju. the only Korean man ever to win on the PGA Tour, something he has done three times. He has just one single top-10 finish in nine tournaments this year. Still, the defending SK Telecom champion said although he is not in the best playing shape, he will get better with some rest and more practice.
“This is the first time I’ve even touched clubs since the Shell Houston Open,” he said, referring to the PGA Tour event two weeks ago that gave him the year’s first top-10 finish. “This course seems a bit longer than I expected, but I am sure I will make necessary adjustments as the week goes on.”
Choi opined that tricky greens and unpredictable direction of the wind will be critical aspects at the tournament, and said, “Whoever displays the best short game this week will win.”
“The greens are shaped in a way that it can be difficult to read lies on some holes,” he said. “Also, I think players who best deal with the windy conditions and with constantly changing directions should do well this week.”
Choi begins his tournament from the first hole at 11:19 a.m.
The conditions of the course, which opened last summer, are a concern. Because it is open to the general public, the Sky 72, one of the most popular public courses in the nation, has been stomped by scratch golfers and weekend hackers alike. During practice rounds on Monday, the greens were slow―perhaps more so than they should be at a professional event―and the fairways had visible divots.


by Yoo Jee-ho
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