A matter of time for Wie

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:34 AM ET

It's no longer a novelty. It's gone beyond hype. Michelle Wie has a chance today to drive, chip and putt her way into the history books.

And, if not today, then someday.

Having won her sectional qualifier for the United States Open a few weeks ago, Wie will tee it up with 152 other professionals, all of them men, at Canoe Brook Golf Club in Summit, N.J., in a 36-hole qualifier for the right to play alongside Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and others, a week from Thursday at Winged Foot, just north of New York City.

Wie's determination to play against, and truly compete with, the best players in her sport has evoked plenty of opposition, not just from men but from other women, as well.

She has been doing it since she was 13 and she has no plans to stop any time soon. At 16 years old, she is hitting the ball just as long as most touring professionals and has been closing the gap, both physically and mentally between herself and the male pros.

Unlike most of her other tournaments with the men, Wie is competing, not on an exemption, but by qualifying. Any grousing by her opponents about "special treatment" will be off base.

Only the top 18 finishers over today's two rounds will qualify for the Open, so Wie will have to be at her very best. But, unlike other times when she has tried to compete against PGA Tour-type pros, there are more people who believe her best is good enough.

"It really is incredible," David Leadbetter, her coach, told reporters this weekend. "No way a few years ago would you have ever dreamed of a 16-year-old girl having the opportunity of hopefully getting into the U.S. Open. She is just special. That's all I can tell you."

Win or lose, Wie is facing a hectic schedule the next few weeks. After today's 36 holes, she'll get in a car and drive 150 miles to Maryland for the McDonald's LPGA Championship, the second major on the women's schedule this year, which begins on Thursday.

The United States Women's Open is set in Rhode Island, the week after the men's Open at Winged Foot.

Despite the fact the LPGA Tour has denied her membership until her 18th birthday, Wie was given an exemption by the United States Golf Association, based upon her comparative results.

If she happens to win one of the 18 men's Open spots today, she will face three consecutive weekends of major championship golf, something nobody in the history of the game has done.

Today, she squares off against 135 professionals, 48 of them from the PGA Tour. Typically at these qualifying events, a handful of surprise qualifiers emerge. Two years ago when qualifying was held at this same golf course in New Jersey, six of the 22 qualifiers came from outside the PGA Tour fraternity.

Wie has been on site since late last week, practising under Leadbetter's watchful eye and playing the two courses she'll play today. Thursday, on one 572-yard par-five, she hit a 327-yard drive and then hit the green with a 245-yard approach.

Regardless of her amazing talent, this is a long shot. She has never even made a men's cut before in the United States. But rest assured that it's no longer a case of "if" but "when" she plays her way into a men's major championship. Presuming that her competitive fire remains stoked, this is a player who is not even close to her prime years.

In a sport where players routinely don't reach their peak performance until they are in their 30s, Wie is way ahead of schedule.

Don't be surprised at all if, during the next month, she wins her first women's pro tournament. And don't be surprised if it's a major championship.

Last summer, she reached the quarter-finals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links. One of the perks in winning that tournament is a berth in the Masters. Later this summer, she'll play in the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic and the highest finisher in that event not otherwise exempt, gets a berth in the British Open.

So, no matter what happens today, Wie is going to keep knocking on the door. One of these days, it will come flying open.


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