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We're still waiting for Wie to live up to large hype When you're wealthy beyond imagining at 20, it must be difficult to maintain the hunger for golf

How long has it been? How long since Michelle Wie came crashing into the national consciousness as a golf prodigy? Five years? Ten? It's seems like we've been waiting forever for Wie to deliver on the promise.

That's how it seemed Friday in the second round of the LPGA Championship, like a microcosm of Wie's career. You waited, convinced that something truly amazing was bound to occur. You waited for the magic to appear, and waited some more. And when the day was finally done, you were still waiting.

Wie shot a 2-over par 74, giving her a two-day total of 146. That's 2-over, good enough to make the cut but not sufficient to put her in serious contention for a major or justify the hype that has followed her since she became the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA event at 12.

She's 20 now, in only her second full year on the tour. But Wie is no ordinary 20-year-old. Her parents pushed her onto the world stage when she was too young to decide for herself. Wie's childhood was peddled for fame and riches, and she became very wealthy at a young age because of it.

Wie set a high standard and it's only fair to hold her to it. She finished in the top 10 of a women's major seven times before she was 17 years old. She has not done it since. Wie is a prodigious talent. But watching her scuffle with the difficult Locust Hill layout for two days, you have to wonder if she has gotten any better.

Sure, Wie has made the cut in all 10 events this year. She won her first LPGA event last season. She played well for the triumphant U.S. squad at the Solheim Cup. She is 18th on the LPGA money list. But Wie was supposed to be a dominant force by this point, the female equivalent of Tiger Woods. It hasn't worked out that way.

David Leadbetter, her coach, seemed to be making excuses for her in an interview with Reuters on Thursday. Leadbetter, renowned as one of the top teachers in the sport, said Wie wasn't likely to show her full abilities on the narrow fairways and gnarly rough at Locust Hill. He said it was like "playing with handcuffs on."

"Yeah. We talked about that," Wie said in a 50-second interview after Friday's round. "Sometimes, I feel like I'm grinding a little bit too hard, like I want it too much. I've got to let go, enjoy the course and have a fun round."

Fun? Wie spent a lot of her time chopping her ball out of the rough. She hit just seven of 14 fairways, same as in Thursday's round. She kept her driver in the bag half the time. Wie had three three-putt greens and 35 putts in all.

Wie went straight to the putting green both days. It didn't help much Friday. She consistently came up short on her longer putts, as if she lacked the nerve and the confidence to make a firm, committed stroke.

Her coach clearly believes her commitment is an issue. Wie recently took two weeks off to work with Leadbetter. But he said it's "up to her what she wants to do in the world of golf" and said it's hard to be No. 1 if you're a part-time player. Wie will begin her senior year at Stanford in September and take a full course load.

Leadbetter said he didn't expect Wie to play golf past age 30. It seems odd, hearing Wie's coach talk about retirement when she hasn't accomplished much on tour. It's a far cry from Juli Inkster talking about her enduring passion for the sport at 50.

As Leadbetter says, it's a question of how badly Wie wants it. She has a lot of outside interests, including cooking, clothes and technology. When you're wealthy beyond imagining at 20, it must be difficult to maintain the hunger for golf.

Wie hits the ball far, but I couldn't find anything remarkable about her game Friday. Her short game was mediocre. Of course, it's one of the toughest courses she's played.

"Yeah, for sure," Wie said. "But if you hit good shots, you're in the fairway. So I'll try to keep doing that."

Everyone struggled in Wie's threesome in the opening two rounds. Morgan Pressel is at 148. Ai Miyazato, the world's top-ranked woman, is at 147. So at least Wie won her group.

"I'm always having fun with Michelle," said Miyazato, who took questions in English after 15 minutes with the large Japanese media contingent. "I played with her maybe six times this year. She hits really far. She is tall. She has everything I don't have."

Wie is a shade over 6 feet tall. She has nearly a foot on Miyazato. Wie has the money and the power and the hype on her side. But Miyazato is the best player on the women's tour right now. She's a national hero in Japan. Wie is more a curiosity than an object of affection with the American fans.

Still, there's a lingering fascination with Wie. Some day, maybe her performance will catch up. But when her coach is speculating on her retirement, you wonder if the pressure of being Michelle Wie, prodigy, has already become too much for her.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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