Prodigies: Bright Lights In Sports

<b>CBS News</b> Profiles Michelle Wie & Freddy Adu

A special edition of 60 Minutes looks at two young prodigies in the sports world.
In 1997, Tiger Woods, then 21, became the youngest golfer ever to win the Masters Tournament. Today, there's an up-and-coming teenager who's set her sights on the Masters.

She's Michelle Wie, a lavishly talented kid from Hawaii with the potential for being the best woman golfer ever. But for her, that's not enough. She wants to compete with men -- and beat them.

When Correspondent Steve Kroft met Michelle last year, she was on a roll, and she was barely 14.

"I think my ultimate goal is to play in the Masters. I think it'd be pretty neat walking down the Masters fairways," says Michelle, who thinks the world is ready for it.

Would she like to win it? "Yeah, I'd love to," says Michelle. "But I think the green jacket's a little bit out of fashion, you know?"

Lots of 14-year-olds dream about winning the Masters, but this is not a fantasy. Last year, Michelle became the youngest person to ever take on the men in a PGA Tour event. And in front of her hometown crowd in Honolulu, at the Sony Open, she performed like a debutante at her coming out party.

She shot 72-68, even par, missing the 36 hole cut by a single stroke, but it was still good enough to tie or beat 64 of the best male golfers in the world, making believers out of skeptical sports writers like John Hawkins of Golf World.

Where is she in her career now, compared to where Tiger was at his age?

"Taking gender out of the equation? She's ahead of Tiger. She could do more for golf than Tiger Woods," says Hawkins.

At 10, Michelle already had shot a 64 and challenged some of the top women amateurs at the U.S. public links championship. She won the tournament last summer at 13, her first national title, and qualified for five out of six events she played in on the ladies professional golf tour.

"I like challenges, and I have to be the first to do everything, and I just want to be the best," says Wie.

She is just over 6 feet tall, has a perfect swing, and already drives the ball about as far as the average golfer on the men's tour. She is so accomplished and so polished, it is easy to forget that she is just a ninth-grader at Punahou High, and that golf is still an after-school sport.

Michelle watches "American Idol," listens to Coldplay and Good Charlotte, loves Jim Carrey movies, and goes to the mall with her friends. She also works out every day, practices for three hours after school, and eight hours on the weekend.

Other than that, she seems very much the normal teenager, with all the normal anxieties. But she says one difference is her height. "I'm just freakishly tall," she says, adding that she hopes she's no longer growing.

Michelle began her golf career at 4 and was introduced to the game by her parents, who both emigrated to the U.S. from Korea. Her mother, Bo, who is now a Honolulu realtor, had been an amateur champion there. Her father, B.J., who is a professor at the University of Hawaii, has been a two handicapper, which means he is very good.

She says she started beating her parents at golf when she was 7 or 8 years old. "They say I started beating them when I was 9. But I refuse to believe that," she says.

Who pushed her more in the game: her mother or father? "I don't know. I guess my mom," says Michelle. "But I wouldn't really call it 'pushing,' because they didn't really push me that much. It was more self-motivated."

Michelle's game is now in the hands of one of the best instructors in the business: David Leadbetter, who has coached the likes of Ernie Els and Nick Price.

Could she make a living on the men's tour? "If she continues at the present rate, I'd have to say yes. You'd have to say that, potentially, she could do it," says Leadbetter. "And I wouldn't put it past her. I mean, she's a very, very competitive girl."

Whether she's performing for 60 Minutes cameras, or surrounded by huge galleries in front of a national television audience, Michelle already has demonstrated the one quality necessary to become a champion, and that is the ability to elevate her game to another level when she needs to.

"She's a gamer. She's a performer," says Hawkins. "Michelle loves the stage -- tremendous asset to have when you're a superstar in an individual sport. I don't even think Tiger feels as comfortable on the stage as Michelle does. She's got a lot of personality. She's got nothing to worry about, except when the train gets moving too fast."

And Hawkins says that's what's happening now.

"Michelle's a great player, but she's 14, and she's female," says Hawkins. "And she would not be able to compete on anything close to a consistent basis with the best men's players in the world, best male players in the world."

Hawkins says he doesn't approve of the fact that Michelle is playing in PGA Tour events. "I blame that as much on the PGA Tour as I do on B.J. and Michelle Wie," says Hawkins.

"I get really bored easily," says Michelle. "So if I just play in the women's tournaments and I guess play them over and over again, I think I'll get bored of golf."

What does she say to those who are skeptical about her ability to compete with men in professional golf? "I think the reason they're saying that is because they're truly afraid. I mean, men's egos can be easily brought down, and I don't think they want that to happen," says Michelle. "I have some experience with my dad, and I think that it's just the way guys are."

Her words are spoken with the confidence of someone who has been beating boys and full-grown men all of her life. She realizes that she could turn pro tomorrow and be rich and famous, but she says she'd like to go through the basic steps of life.

"Go to high school and then go to college and be in a dorm and stuff like that, I think," says Michelle. "I just wanna go through the basic steps of life, and then I think I'd be fine from then."

Michelle Wie is now 15, and just finished 10th grade. She has a busy schedule on the Ladies Golf Tour this summer, and just a few weeks ago, she came in second in the LPGA Championship. She's qualified for a men's USGA Tournament later this month.
  • Rebecca Leung

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