Michelle Wie likely had the highest-profile spring break of any eighth-grader this weekend when she tied for ninth at the Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Tour's first major of the season.
At 13 years 5 months 17 days, Wie became the youngest player to make the cut for an LPGA tournament since Aree Song, who was just five months older when she accomplished the feat at this event three years ago.
Wie, whose tournament included a 6-under-par 66 in the third round, finished even par in the event to finish seven strokes behind winner Patricia Meunier-Lebouc.
"I think I played pretty well all day," Wie said after a final-round 76 on Sunday. "I think I played extra well on the third day, so I was really happy about that score."
Although LPGA regulations usually prohibit players younger than 18 from playing in its tournaments, Wie was able to play in the Nabisco after receiving a sponsor's exemption. She plans to play in the maximum six tournaments for players without LPGA Tour cards, and her next scheduled appearance will be in the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship, hosted by Nancy Lopez, April 25-27 in Stonebridge, Ga.
"She's a very talented young lady and brought a lot of excitement to this week's tournament," LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw said. "From all the players' reactions to her, I'd have to say everyone who's encountered her this week has been very impressed with not only her golfing ability, but the person that she is, the support her mother and father have given her; she's just made a wonderful impression on everybody associated with this tournament."
Still, there are concerns about a player her age competing at the professional level.
Song said Dottie Pepper expressed sadness in 2000 when Song was unable to tell Karrie Webb, the other member of their threesome, where Song's adopted home town of Bradenton, Fla., was located.
"I just think it's so sad, my heart kind of broke for her," Pepper said.
Lopez, an LPGA Hall of Famer who has a teenage daughter, said she would not let her play on the tour at that age.
Wie has answered those concerns by saying, "I just want to challenge myself and see how good I am."
Song, who tied for 10th place in 2000, can relate to Wie's position.
"Everyone has different opinions whether it's good for a young person to come out here and play with so much attention," said Song, who has signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Florida beginning this fall. "As long as you really enjoy yourself, I think you'll be fine. It's important for Michelle to keep in mind it's a very long journey. She's only 13. You've got to remind yourself to keep having fun. That's the main part."
Wie certainly had fun in the third round of the Nabisco, when her 66 in tied the lowest round by an amateur in an LPGA major. That score vaulted Wie into third place and the final group for the final round, playing with eventual champion Meunier-Lebouc and Annika Sorenstam, the world's top-ranked female golfer.
Sorenstam called Wie "very impressive."
"She has a great future ahead of her," Sorenstam said.
Wie has also drawn praise from a PGA Tour player.
"You watch her swing and say, 'That's normal.' Then you realize that she's only 13 and that's . . . that's unbelievable," Vijay Singh, who played in Wie's group during the Pro-Junior Golf Challenge at the Sony Open in January, told the Associated Press. "She plays like an 18-year-old. She's going to be a star."
Wie sought to join Singh in the Sony Open, but failed to qualify after shooting a 73 from the championship tees at Pearl Country Club, six strokes short of a playoff.
"There's a lot of guys who got beat by a 13-year-old girl," Andy Miller said after winning the qualifier.
Playing against male professionals is part of Wie's ambitious long-term goals. When asked before the tournament began where she saw herself in 10 years, the Honolulu resident responded, "I might go play LPGA full time, then after I get better, I might go to PGA."
In an interview session later, Wie said she hoped to play college golf for Stanford and her dream is to play in the Masters, which she said would come fastest by winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, whose winner receives an invitation to the Masters.
Wie, who is 5 feet 11, demonstrated her driving ability at the Nabisco by averaging 286.2 yards, the highest among any of the top-15 finishers. (Meunier-Lebouc averaged 251.6 yards and Sorenstam 280.4.)
"She's a power player," Song said.