DUBAI // It is just as well Michelle Wie is bubbling with youthful exuberance as she seeks to justify top billing in the Dubai Ladies Masters, which starts today at Emirates Golf Club. The young American golfer is functioning on minimal sleep, not least because of the academic demands being made on her by teachers back home.
A physics examination taken electronically in the early hours of yesterday morning left her bleary eyed as she discussed her chances of emerging triumphant from a cluster of leading players seeking this end-of-season title. "I've got to take two more exams - today and Friday," she said before she went out in the pro-am to complete her brief preparations for her first competitive round on the Majlis Course this morning.
The statuesque Wie has been a hugely recognisable figure to golf enthusiasts since her early teens, and at the tender age of 20 she has experienced more than many professionals do in an entire career. She admitted that at times it has been a difficult road and one which she might have negotiated differently with the benefit of hindsight. But Wie, who comfortably outdrove top male touring players when still a schoolgirl, believes the trials and tribulations of growing up in the public eye have made her stronger and better equipped for what lies ahead.
Stronger mentally, if not physically. A wrist injury sustained two years ago has impaired her ability to unleash her booming 300-yard drives, while a more recently sprained ankle is adding to her difficulties in coping with the demands of 72-hole tournament golf. However, a belated maiden US PGA Tour victory earlier this year has done wonders for her confidence and she was prepared to talk up her chances of overcoming a high quality field here which includes 10 of Europe's Solheim Cup squad and her own American teammate Christina Kim.
"Winning that first tournament made me realise how much more I wanted to do it and it just motivates me to try to do even better," said Wie. "It was such a great feeling that first time. Hopefully now it's going to keep getting better. "My goal is to win here but I can't control everything that happens out there. But I can control what I do and I'm going to give it everything I can over the next four days. If that proves good enough to win, that would be awesome, if not, then I know that I will have tried my hardest."
With Annika Sorenstam, previously the biggest attraction in women's golf, waving an emotional goodbye at this tournament a year ago, Wie is regarded as the next star of the game. Initially she was portrayed as the female equivalent to Tiger Woods but she has not yet fulfilled that high promise. "I've made some good decisions and bad decisions so far," she said. "But the main thing is that you learn from your mistakes and try not to make the same ones again. It is kind of weird when people talk about what I might be capable of and I guess it can add to the pressure. "But it is also exciting and it makes me want to show what I have got. I am really happy right now and I think that's all that matters. I am a believer that anything can happen. I am more mature now and I am able to concentrate on what is happening right now without focusing on the past or the future."
Wie also disclosed that her schoolgirl urge to knock the skin off the golf ball and see it disappear over the horizon has waned. "Of course it is great fun to rip it occasionally but I have come to regard consistency as being more important than length," she said. "Trying to get the ball into the hole is the key, not trying to kill it by unleashing your driver on every hole." That new strategy was abandoned briefly when Wie was taken to the roof of the city to hit a ball off the top of the Burj skyscraper.
"I'm really scared of heights, so going 125 storeys high was going to be horrific," she said. "But once I got past the shaky legs stage it was really amazing. It was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had." Wie begins her Dubai challenge on the 10th tee at 7.50am today alongside Becky Brewerton, of Wales and Italy's Diana Luna. She will be followed by the defending champion Anja Monke, of Germany, who has been drawn with Kim, and Scotland's Catriona Matthew, who is Europe's second ranked player.
Top of the European money list is Sweden's Sophie Gustafson. She starts off the first tee at 11.30am and will have France's Gwladys Nocera and Spain's Tania Elosegui for company in the first two rounds. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org