-- Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer describe themselves as just a couple of teen angels and the best of pals, even if most observers believe that one day soon, maybe even this week in the 59th U.S. Women's Open, they could become longtime and devilishly spirited rivals.
The 14-year-old Wie likes to get a rise out of 17-year-old Creamer by playfully calling her "Princess."
"Yeah, it's really funny," Wie said Tuesday. "She gets so annoyed when I say that."
Creamer, who will be a high school senior in the fall, admits to some of those royal tendencies.
"I'm such a girl," she said recently, adding that she decided not to practice here at the Orchards Golf Club on Monday because she felt it far more important to treat herself to a manicure and a pedicure.
But make no mistake. These two young amateurs, who will begin play Thursday at a classic 1922 Donald Ross course near the campus of Mount Holyoke College, may well represent the future -- and perhaps even the present -- of women's golf. They'll have plenty of company in their demographic this week, as well, with 14 other teenagers in the field.
Wie is here on a special exemption, the youngest player ever to be accorded such an honor in a USGA national championship. On Sunday in Williamsburg, she cried when she lost to a birdie by Taiwan's Ya-Ni Tseng on the 36th hole at the Women's Public Links, an event she won in 2003 to become the youngest ever to prevail in an adult national championship. But she's over that now.
"I think it's good in a way that I lost the tournament," Wie said. ". . . You learn a lot more when you lose than when you win, because when you win you're just so happy and you think that you're so good that when you play bad, it kind of hits you. I was so close to winning, so you want to win the next tournament more. You have that anticipation."
Wie got her invitation essentially based on her performance in three LPGA events, including a fourth-place finish at the Kraft-Nabisco, the first women's major of the season, and top-20 finishes in the other two LPGA events she played on sponsor's exemptions. But her performance competing against men in her first PGA Tour tournament, the Sony Open back home in Hawaii in January, also might have been noticed: She missed the cut -- by a shot.
"The Michelle Wie exemption has generated a lot of attention," David Fay, executive director of the USGA, said on Wednesday. "It seems as if a number of people are fixated on the numbers on her birth certificate rather than the numbers she's put up in competition. The fact is, had she been a professional, she would be exempt by virtue of her performance in the three professional events. This is not a bad precedent."
Creamer has had a recent record of success, as well. Last year, at age 16, she advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur and was voted the American Junior Golf Association player of the year. She also qualified for the women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, at which time she didn't sound as if she was in any hurry to become Wie's friend.
"I play with tons of junior golfers, and she's just another junior golfer," Creamer said a year ago. "I don't really see her as someone beyond my reach. I've played her twice and beaten her both times."
But as teammates on the U.S. team that won the Curtis Cup in England last month, Creamer and Wie began to bond during a week of practice in Sea Island, Ga., and then sat together on the plane and giggled their way across the ocean. Each won both their singles matches to help the Americans, whose average age was 18.5, prevail, 10-8.
Creamer, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., and has trained there at the David Leadbetter Academy for the last four years, came back from the Curtis Cup and finished second to Cristie Kerr in the LPGA's ShopRite Classic near Atlantic City. Attempting to become the first amateur in 35 years to win an LPGA event, Creamer missed a 15-foot birdie putt at the final hole, allowing Kerr to prevail by making her own birdie from nine feet.
"She's going to be a star," said Kerr, who turned pro at 18 herself. "She's absolutely fearless. And if she wasn't, she doesn't show she's not."
Creamer played again this past weekend in Rochester, N.Y., and finished 13th.
In between the two LPGA events, she also managed to qualify for the Open in a 36-hole marathon. A year ago, she seemed to resent all the attention Wie was getting as the youngest player in the Open field. Now she takes a far more diplomatic approach.
"I try to play the golf course, really," she said on Tuesday. "I don't play a certain person out there. I would like to beat anybody I play, obviously. But there's not one person I try to beat. We're very good friends. We know each other very well now. But to say if I want to beat her or not, I would like to say I want to beat anybody."
Wie was equally gracious when asked Tuesday about what she thought about Creamer's second-place finish at the ShopRite event.
"I think she did awesome . . . I really wanted her to win," Wie said. "It was really good for her. I don't know how my game measures up to her. I don't really, like, measure myself against anyone."
At least until Thursday, when the future of women's golf will tee off in the biggest event of the present.