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End-of-year report pleases Michelle

Shiga (Japan): Michelle Wie, the phenomenally talented 14-year-old from Hawaii, completed the season on a low note by finishing last of the elite 69-player field in her seventh and final LPGA Tournament of the year in South Korea.

But while the result in Jeju Island on Sunday played into the hands of the critics who say she has done too much too soon, nothing can detract from the fact that the girl who has just started high school in Honolulu has had an incredible year.

She missed the cut in only one of her LPGA outings and the most impressive feat was a tie for ninth in the first major of the season at Mission Hills in California.

In the third round, Wie tied the lowest amateur score of 66 for an LPGA event and on the final day she played in the last group alongside Annika Sorenstam and the eventual winner, Patricia Meunier Lebouc.

Wie says she would like to play eventually on both the LPGA and men’s PGA Tours and she dipped her toe into such a gender mix this season by playing in two men’s tournaments, on the Nationwide and Canadian Tours, missing the cut in both.

She says she had “really great fun” playing alongside the professionals but still picked out an amateur success as her personal highlight.

“My win at the US women’s public links championship was definitely my favourite event of the year,” said Wie, who was 13 at the time and became the youngest ever winner of a senior USGA Championship.

Standing 1.83 metres tall and able to drive the ball more than 300 metres, Wie has recently followed the lead of world number one Sorenstam by starting a serious work-out programme.

“Over the next few months I’ll be working hard on my swing and my fitness,” she explained. “It’s been a hectic season but I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot and had some wonderful experiences.”

Gary Gilchrist, a director of golf at the David Leadbetter Academy in Florida, has been Wie’s coach for the past two seasons and is behind her recent move into the gym.

“She needs to get fitter and stronger,” he said. “She has to cope with a lot of travel as well as the golf and now is a good time to get into the habit of working on her fitness. The next four years will be key in building her strength, endurance and flexibility.”

As for her detractors, he added: “The biggest criticism is that she doesn’t have a ‘normal life’. But she still lives in Hawaii, goes to school there and actually she doesn’t play in as many events as some of the American juniors.

“As for the danger of burn-out, that only happens when a youngster doesn’t have the game to compete. Michelle does and at the moment everything is just a huge adventure.”

Gilchrist hopes that the LPGA will have the vision “to use Michelle to promote the Tour” and the expectation is that she will have a similar schedule in 2004. (Reuters)

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