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Troubled times for Wie as U.S. Open begins

Photo: Eric Risberg/AP

Michelle Wie will enroll at Stanford this fall.

You want it to end well, but somehow it doesn't seem it will. Child sports prodigies are a lot like child actors in that everything they do is not so cute once they start growing up.

Michelle Wie is growing up, and fast. Just a few weeks ago she was busily filling out a housing application for Stanford, where she plans to live this fall in a dorm with other kids her age.

Like her, they're smart and gifted. Unlike her, they don't have $10 million in the bank and golf fans scrutinizing their every move.

Lately those moves have been scrutinized more than ever as Wie's game spirals downward on the same path as her confidence level. At age 17, she can't find the fairway with her driver, and the idea of competing against the men seems laughable when she can't even beat her own gender.

Wie made matters worse recently by antagonizing the best woman in the game. And many think she was playing games when she walked off the course during a horrible round recently with a wrist injury that seemed almost too convenient.

Wie's still rich, and she's still famous, or as famous as a female golfer can be. But the novelty of being a long-hitting 13-year-old who could hold her own with the best in the world has worn off, and she has yet to add a trophy of any sort to the family home in Hawaii.

The U.S. Women's Open begins Thursday in North Carolina, where Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam and teen Morgan Pressel will be among the favorites for the most coveted prize in women's golf. Wie will be there as well, but as more of an afterthought than anything else.

She's ancient history, or merely ancient in the eyes of one competitor. That would be Alexis Thompson, who automatically assumed the mantle of the next great thing by qualifying for the Open at the age of 12.

Not that Wie won't get attention. Reporters will follow her around Pine Needles, not to see if she can challenge for the lead, but to write about her if she doesn't break 80.

They'll keep a sharp eye out to see if she faints from the heat or re-injures her wrist. They'll want to know if Sorenstam is still unhappy with Wie for pulling out of the Ginn Tribute while struggling to break 90, only to be seen hitting balls two days later.

They'll ask Wie the kind of questions they wouldn't ask a 13-year-old. And they'll expect grown-up answers, not the one Wie gave when asked about pulling out of the Ginn the way she did.

"I don't think I need to apologize for anything," she said.

No one in the Wie family has felt the need to apologize for anything since she began playing with the pros, which is part of the problem. She was always the chosen one, and anyone who objected to tournament invitations or special privileges simply didn't understand she was entitled to them.

So when Wie fires her caddie or switches agents like she did last year, it's never her fault. When she walks off the course after holding a conversation with her agent and says her wrist is injured, then the wrist must have suddenly flared up.

When she was playing well and drawing large galleries to tournaments like the John Deere Classic, that was tolerated. Now, she hasn't broken par in her last 20 competitive rounds. Wie finished 10 shots behind the next worst player earlier this month in the LPGA Championship, where the $3,273 check was her first performance payday of the year.

Her confidence is so shaky she played three rounds at the LPGA Championship without pulling the driver out of the bag. Last week she announced she wouldn't play in the John Deere, where she nearly made the cut against men as a 15-year-old, because she no longer has the length to play the course.

That just might be the best decision Wie and her parents have made since she celebrated her 16th birthday by signing $10 million in endorsement contracts with Nike and Sony. It's true she got those contracts largely because she created a stir by playing against men, but the idea is not nearly as intriguing now as it was a few years back.

The best thing about being 17 is that Wie has plenty of time to find herself and her game. She may yet have a long and successful career and do the kind of things on the golf course that so many predicted for her just a few years ago.

A good start on the path to recovery might be to leave her golf clubs at home when she heads to Stanford. Her parents could do her a big favor by letting her enjoy her freshman year living among others her age without worrying once about whether she can hit the fairway with her driver.

Tiger Woods looks back fondly on his stay at Stanford as a time he began to start finding his own way. Some day Wie might be doing the same thing.

It doesn't seem like five years have passed since Wie first gained notoriety by qualifying for an LPGA event at the age of 12. But she'll be 18 this fall, at which time she legally becomes an adult.

That's one of the problems with child prodigies. They always grow up way too fast.

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