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Another wave of teenagers at the Women's Open

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) — Michelle Wie had reason to feel old, and it had nothing to do with sore wrists and high scores.

On her way to Pine Needles for the U.S. Women's Open, she drove past Legacy Golf Links, where the 17-year-old from Hawaii played her first tournament on the mainland at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links.

She was 10.

It was the first time she could remember not being able to see the ocean. The first time she went to the practice range and the golf balls were not yellow with a black stripe. She remembers crying after every shot, something she laughs about now.

How long ago does that seem?

"I kept thinking it was like four years ago," Wie said Tuesday. "But that would only make me 14. It was actually seven years ago. It kind of makes me feel a little bit old now."

In an area steeped in Southern hospitality where no one is in a hurry, time sure flies.

Just ask Morgan Pressel.

She returned to Pine Needles as the youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history. Six years ago, she showed up as a 13-year-old in braces, the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women's Open history. One of her biggest thrills was meeting Karrie Webb and Lorie Kane, and having girls only a few years younger asking for her autograph.

"I remember I practiced my autograph in the car," Pressel said. "I had all these different variations of it. Which one am I going to use? And it's totally changed since then."

Then she smiled at the memory.

"Yeah, it's cute," she added.

But it's no longer a novelty.

Pressel isn't even in the record books anymore.

She was replaced this year by Alexis Thompson, who is not among the 24 teenagers at Pine Needles because she's only 12. She shot rounds of 71-72 to become the youngest qualifier in tournament history.

Webb never would have seen this coming.

She thought she did well to win the Women's British Open (before it counted as a major) at age 20, and earn her LPGA Tour card in her first attempt that year despite playing with a broken bone in her hand.

Webb won the U.S. Women's Open the last time it was held at Pine Needles in 2001, and while she'll never forget that feeling of hoisting the biggest prize in her sport, she also remembers all the attention early in the week on Pressel.

"I tried to think of myself as a 13-year-old and how far away I was from ever thinking about competing in the U.S. Open," Webb said. "It was one of those things where you thought that's a one-off. You're not going to see a 13-year-old play the U.S. Open very often."

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