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Karl Greenfeld Homework Pass

YOU SEE?" Kisha Houston storms across the Rialto High basketball court, waving a blue, filigreed document--her son's birth certificate. "You see? Demetrius Walker is 14 years old. Say that. Write that. Tell them D is 14. Stop all this about his being 16, 17, people lying, saying we held him back. He's the right age." ¶ She holds the document up for inspection. "That's his birthday right there," she says. And sure enough, Demetrius Walker, or D, the best eighth-grade basketball player in the country, is only 14 years old. But that man out there on the court, 6'3", 175 pounds, built more like an NFL tailback than a junior high school point guard and with enough game to be running the point for a Division I program--how can he be 14? It doesn't seem possible, but deal with it: This kid is 14 going on LeBron. ¶ I shouldn't be writing this. You shouldn't be reading it.

The photographs on these pages shouldn't have been taken. Isn't it too early to start poking and prodding at a kid, to shine the kliegs of sports celebrity upon a mere child, to start stoking the superstar-making machinery for a boy who is barely into puberty? Isn't it too early for interviewers to be traipsing into his bedroom and sitting down beneath his recreation-league trophies and tacked-up newspaper clippings to ask a kid who's sucking on a Pixy Stix about going to college or even turning pro?

Apparently not. D has crates of letters from college coaches--Mike Krzyzewski, Lute Olson, John Calipari--with their autographs at the bottom of notes that begin something like, "NCAA regulations forbid us from giving you information about our university, but we would be happy to talk to you about the opportunities to play here." Adidas sponsors his AAU team. A half-dozen magazines hoping to do profiles have contacted Demetrius's coach, Joe Keller. There have been newspaper, TV and radio features on the prodigy from the Los Angeles suburb of Fontana.

If child stars in golf, tennis, gymnastics, ballet and skateboarding are getting buckets of ink and stacks of endorsement dollars, then why should we discriminate against a young athlete because he plays hoops? After all, eight of the first 19 picks in last year's NBA draft were high school players. And if 17- or 18-year-olds are now pro prospects, it follows that talent scouts need to start keeping tabs on even younger players. "Middle school is the new high school," says Keller.

That's why we know, for example, that Orlando's Austin Rivers (son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers) is the best sixth-grader in the country, as determined by Hoopscoop, an Internet scholastic basketball scouting service. Adidas, Nike and Reebok already spend millions on grassroots programs and summer basketball tournaments for the nation's top high school players. Last year, hoping to get an even earlier read on potential endorsers, Adidas launched its Junior Phenom Camp for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, and college coaches are finding it increasingly difficult to stay away from such prepubescent meat markets.

"We are all rushing [to find the next] Kobe, Tracy or LeBron, and it's not fair to the kids," says Sonny Vaccaro, senior director of grassroots basketball for Reebok and one of the pioneers at seeking out and developing teenage talent. "It's getting ridiculous."

team california, Demetrius Walker's AAU squad, hasn't lost a game in 21/2 years--that's 160 straight wins, including last year's AAU championship for boys 13 and under. Most of Team Cal's games are against high school teams, and even in those matchups Demetrius looks like, well, a man among boys. Forget the smooth way he strokes the J, the ease with which he draws contact on the drive and then goes to the line and converts, the crisp chest passes, the 360-degree dunks, the first step so fast it once caused a defender to slip out of his Nike. Instead, check this highlight from the championship game of an AAU tournament at Rialto High on Nov. 21: On a two-on-three break against a high school squad from Lake Elsinore, there are three defenders between Demetrius and fellow eighth-grader Rome Draper, apparently obstructing every conceivable passing lane, but D throws a bounce pass that vanishes into the welter of arms and legs before reappearing in Rome's hands, its arrival so surprising that he bobbles the rock for a second before laying it in. "You can't teach that," says Keller, who in addition to his coaching duties is a talent scout, earning a six-figure compensation package from Adidas. "I've never seen any kid that age do what D can do." Keller should know: He's worked with dozens of players who have gone on to the NBA, including, most recently, Chicago Bulls center-forward Tyson Chandler, Atlanta Hawks guard-forward Josh Childress and Charlotte Bobcats forward-center Jamal Sampson. "I've never seen a combination of speed, size and coordination like this kid has," Keller says.

"He's a great athlete, he's got excellent skills, he can play inside, outside," agrees Clark Francis, editor and publisher of Hoopscoop. "If he grows, it'll be scary; if he doesn't, he can still make a lot of money at this game."

Keller spends several hours every day with Demetrius, chauffeuring him, checking that he's done his homework (Demetrius is homeschooled by a tutor), phoning him during the evening to make sure he's at home instead of out with the boys, even helping Houston hook up the surround-sound speakers for her home entertainment system.

D, who has not seen his father since he was an infant, spends more time with Keller than most sons do with their fathers. "I can't talk to my mom about everything," says D. "I can't talk to her about girls. I need to go to Joe." Demetrius sits on a sofa in the three-bedroom bungalow he shares with his mom, chasing amino acid tablets with fruit punch. He just shrugs when asked who is tougher on him, his mom or Joe.

"Now that's a good question, a real good question," he says, smiling. "Put it this way: If I'm not doing right, if I'm chasing girls or something, then my mom will kick my a-- first. Then coach will. Then my grandma. They'll be lining up."

He laughs. He speaks with a slight twang, not yet accustomed to his voice's bass tones. His wide brown eyes seem prematurely weary. "Sometimes I regret that I can't just go to the pizza parlor with my friends," he says. "But we have a plan."

Precocious superstar athletes usually have a surfeit of confidence, which adds to their luster and convinces those around them from an early age that they are special. Up close, it is sometimes perceived as charisma and can be confused with intelligence. Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Peyton Manning--they seem more articulate than they are, in part because of who they are. Demetrius has it.

He's been dunking a basketball (on eight-foot rims) since he was seven, palming the ball since he was 10 and signing autographs since he was 11. It's been five years since Demetrius Walker has walked into a gym where no one knew his name.

this eight-year-old was just killing it. Not in the way a coordinated child might be able to dribble without looking at the ball or sink a foul shot. D was exploding to the rim and finishing with neat finger rolls and extended hang-time reverses. Children just don't do that, thought Joe Keller as he watched the 5'6" kid that day at Rialto Park. "How old are you?" he asked, becoming the first of many adults who would be suspicious of D's age.

"Eight," Demetrius responded.

"For real?"

"Uh-huh."

"Do you play on a team?"

"Rec league," D answered.

"You want to play on my team?"

Demetrius shrugged. "You better talk to my momma."

Kisha Houston--a home retention specialist (she helps homeowners avoid foreclosure)--took one look at Keller, a potbellied, 29-year-old and thought, Uh-uh. Do I really want my boy with this weird white dude who keeps saying, "I can see talent before it is even there"?

But as Keller explained Team California, the Adidas grassroots program and his plans for Demetrius, the guy started to look a little better. In her day Houston, now 35, was a player, a six-foot forward nicknamed Helluva Hops who started for Crenshaw High in 1985 and '86. "If they had Prop 48 and the WNBA when I was coming up, who knows?" she says. Keller was talking about a basketball program that would get D noticed and would also train and discipline him. Even if he didn't develop big-time skills, it couldn't hurt to spend five afternoons a week at the gym instead of on the street. And maybe he'd get the chance she never did. Wasn't that what she'd had in mind when she moved out of the gang-ridden Crenshaw district to Rialto when he was two, then into slightly less gang-infested Fontana when he was seven?

D's first day working out with Team California was almost his last. Keller had assembled a squad that today includes six of the 40 best eighth-graders in the country and was putting them through Hell Week. A typical drill: sprint from baseline to baseline, then drop and do 40 push-ups, baseline to half-court, 40 push-ups, baseline to the top of the key, 40 push-ups. Finished? O.K., do it again. That workout would make a grown-up puke; D was barely nine.

"I thought, Man, this dude must have had a hard life growing up," Demetrius recalls. "I thought, I ain't gonna listen to this guy--he's crazy."

D stopped running, and Keller told him to go home.

"I need to see which kids are mentally tough enough to make it," Keller says. "And D just wasn't."

But D couldn't go home. "I knew if I called my mom and told her she had to pick me up because I wouldn't work hard enough, she'd go crazy," he says. Instead, he hung around outside the gym, crying. When Keller came out and saw him, D said, "Why are you picking on me?"

"Because I think you are the best player I've ever had," the coach said. "And if you work hard enough, you can be big time. You want that?"

He did.

He does.

He will.

D strolls into the administrative offices of Fontana High. He's wearing a hoodie sweatshirt, black jeans and, of course, Adidas sneakers. Principal Thomas Reasin jumps up from behind his desk as soon as D enters the office. "There's the man," he says, coming around to shake D's hand.

This would be a remarkable greeting for any of Reasin's students, but Demetrius doesn't even attend Fontana High--yet. Reasin has hired a new basketball coach, Mark Soderberg, a former Kentucky and Utah center who played nine years of pro ball in Europe. More important, he was an assistant coach for Team California for the last five years and will likely bring in the top players from that squad, especially this kid who just strolled into the principal's office.

When Soderberg looks at D, he shakes his head in awe. "He's so advanced physically, but he still doesn't have a man's body," Soderberg says. "Imagine when that happens."

Keller agrees. "He's beyond where LeBron was at this age, where Tyson [Chandler] was," Keller says. "He's so athletic that he can dominate without developing the fundamentals--"

"But now that we are working with him on that stuff," Soderberg finishes Keller's thought for him, "he's going to become comfortable on the perimeter; then he'll become a better slasher, better defensively."

"Hey, D," says Reasin, a UCLA fan. "Listen to this." He pushes a button on a stuffed bear that plays the Bruins' fight song. "Think about it."

D smiles. "Aw-right."

Can anybody ever live up to these expectations? What if D becomes a merely average college player instead of the next LeBron? What if he decides to stop playing ball? What if, God forbid, he gets hurt? And what if he stops growing?

Keller leans forward. "D is 14 now and 6'3"," he says. "You're telling me he's not going to grow three inches between now and when he is 17? That would be average growth. And you're telling me that at 6'6", with his skill level, he can't play in the NBA? We have him on a special diet and vitamin supplements. Plus," he lowers his voice, "Demetrius don't know this, but his dad is 6'8"."

Houston laughs when asked about her former husband's height. "Oh, no no no, he was six feet" she says. "But D's uncles were 6'7" and 6'9"."

Demetrius and Keller are on their way from a morning game in Fontana to a Subway for a sandwich. While at lunch, D pulls his hood low over his eyes and then falls asleep with his head on the table. When he's not playing, he has an amazing ability to chill.

As they drive back for the afternoon championship game, D is up and running again. "People are always saying, You hang with Joe so much, it's like he's your dad. But I tell them they're just jealous, they don't have that kind of relationship with their coach."

But Keller insists that what he is doing is for the good of Demetrius, for the good of all his middle school athletes. He talks about building character, providing an education and doing everything he can to make sure that D will be eligible for a Division I program if and when he chooses that path. Right now, of course, having to accept a basketball scholarship to a D-I powerhouse would be viewed as a disappointment.

"Demetrius is a great player," says Vaccaro. "He'll be a great college player. But everyone wants him to be the next LeBron, and how can you be sure of that this early? We have set up a situation where a kid can go to college on a full ride and be deemed a failure. That's what we are doing by starting it at seventh grade."

Keller insists that he will be satisfied if D goes to college. In fact, Keller insists that he won't be disappointed if D wants to quit basketball tomorrow. "As long as he graduates from high school," Keller says. "I don't care if he becomes a ballerina."

Keller is careful to keep up the level of competition Demetrius faces; D gets bored with how easily he can dominate other players his age. Team California's opponents on this Sunday are high school squads. The best players in the country are segregated not by academic institution or region but almost invariably by sneaker company. Demetrius Walker doesn't get a chance to play against 17-year-old O.J. Mayo, for example, the Cincinnati guard widely touted to be the best 10th-grader in the country, because O.J. is a Reebok kid and D is an Adidas kid. The shoe companies want their top prospects attending their all-star camps, such as the Adidas Junior Phenom camp. NCAA regulations allow college coaches to watch only 20 days of high school camps every summer, and each sneaker company wants its best athletes showcased at its camps. "[Adidas wants] to be involved with the best kids," says Keller. "That means getting to know who the best are earlier [than ever before]."

Even Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady, one of the most successful players to jump straight from high school to the NBA (at age 18), worries about how early these phenoms are being prepped for stardom. "Fourteen? That's too fast," he says of Demetrius and his peers. "That means you don't even get a chance to be a teenager. At least I got to be a teenager for a while. Now they're gonna take that away too?"

After the game, another victory for Team California, Keller drops D off at home. Keller slips on a leather bomber jacket and turns off the radio, which he keeps tuned to the hip-hop station that D prefers.

"I know how this looks," says Keller as he backs the truck out of the driveway. "I know you are going to say that what is going on here is weird. People are going to say it looks bad, like I'm manipulating this kid. Like I'm trying to take advantage. But I'm not going to get a thing out of this. My only hope is that maybe, one day, when Demetrius is in the NBA, he can come back and sponsor my team. We'll call it the Demetrius Walker All-Stars. If he wants to do that, great. If not, that's fine. I'm doing everything that's right for the kid, and right now, what he wants, what I want, what his mom wants--we all want the same thing, and that's for Demetrius to succeed and grow and graduate and do all those things he is supposed to do."

How could that be bad for him?

If 17- or 18-year-olds are now pro prospects, then talent scouts need to keep tabs on even younger players. "MIDDLE SCHOOL is the new high school," says Keller.

Demetrius "is beyond where LeBron was at this age, where Tyson [Chandler] was," says Keller. "He can DOMINATE without developing the fundamentals."

Demetrius has been dunking a basketball (on eight-foot rims) since he was seven, palming since he was 10 and SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS since he was 11.

Right now, having to accept a Division I scholarship would be viewed as a DISAPPOINTMENT. "A kid can [get] a full ride and be deemed a failure," says Vaccaro.

She's already going pro. Every day. A little. On this Monday the
transformation begins at three in the afternoon. A silver Lexus
twinkles in the buttery afternoon sun as it idles in the
horseshoe-shaped driveway of Honolulu's Punahou School. Her
parents wait in the front seats. Her snack, a plate of coffee
cake and a bottle of milk, is perched on the rear-seat divider.
The school bell rings, and a tall, gangly freshman appears from
behind a stucco wall, taking long strides across the close-cut
lawn, her bubblegum-pink hoop earrings jiggling as she
approaches. There are dozens of parents hanging their elbows out
of parked automobiles, and she is one among a phalanx of students
moving from school to car, trying, straining, as they all do, to
somehow look cool while being picked up by mom. ¶ Michelle Wie,
five minutes removed from a fifth-period P.E. class, slips her
6-foot frame into the car, pops on the head-phones from her MP3
player, rocking the Black Eyed Peas jam--Where Is the
Love?--which she is determined to play to death again. Bo,
Michelle's 38-year-old mom, slides the transmission into drive.
Dad B.J., 43, takes a call on his cell. And Michelle, who turned
14 last Oct. 11, unwraps her prepractice snack and wrinkles her
nose. She has yet to acknowledge her parents.

"Are these leftovers?" she asks in a slightly annoyed tone. As if
Michelle would eat food, from, like, yesterday. She extends the
paper plate a few inches farther away. "Is this old?"

Bo responds in her native Korean. The coffee cake is fresh, of
course, store bought this morning.

Michelle shrugs, turns up the volume and sips from the bottle of
milk.

In her body language, in her imperious dismissiveness of her
parents' obvious efforts to please, Michelle comes across as a
typical 14-year-old. But every day when school ends, she has to
make the journey from bored teenager to stolid professional
golfer, if not in fact then in spirit. Every day. A little.

Bo steers the Lexus down the school driveway, south on Fern
Street to the H-1 Highway and then east through tunnels bored
into the verdant, jagged karst that rings Honolulu. Dad's phone
chirps, Mom drives, daughter cranks her music. It is a version of
a scene replayed a few million times every day across the
country. Then B.J. hangs up. The caller was an official from the
PGA of America. They want Michelle. They were wondering,
specifically, if she might be available (assuming she qualified)
for the Junior Ryder Cup this September.

"Junior Ryder Cup?" Michelle says, as if weighing the words.

"There's a boys' and girls' team," B.J. explains.

"A girls' team?" Michelle asks, sounding incredulous, repeating
what her dad said as she weighs the offer. Her tone sometimes
takes on this unintended petulance, as if she can't believe what
she's hearing. A million moms and dads--a hundred million, a
billion--have heard their children employ this exact intonation,
as in, We're having soup?

"Uh, no," Michelle says and cranks up the volume.

B.J. shrugs. "It's not the same course as the real Ryder Cup," he
explains. "It's not even the same city. The players get to attend
the real Ryder Cup." He nods, as if he is now coming to the same
conclusion as Michelle. "Not so much value there."

Michelle receives more than a dozen golf invitations and a
hundred media requests every month, he explains. "It's too many,"
B.J. says, shaking his head. "But it's easy after a while. You
say no. To everything. You have to. Otherwise, no time, for
practice, for school, for the mall." Managing Team Wie is so time
consuming that B.J. and Bo haven't played a round themselves in
four years. B.J. would like to hire someone to help with
Michelle's media relations, but U.S. Golf Association rules
forbid an amateur's hiring a flack. So B.J., who has taken a
sabbatical from the University of Hawaii, at which he is a
professor of transportation, is getting a crash Ph.D. in media
management. The final exam is saying no, over and over and over
again. But they keep calling. Newspapers in South Korea, Japan,
China, South Africa; late-night TV shows in New York, L.A. and
London; radio hosts, sportswriters, photographers. They are
calling, of course, because of what everyone is absolutely sure
will happen once this transformation is complete.

Bo pulls the Lexus into the parking lot of Olomana Golf Links, an
18-hole public course in a valley between vertiginous mountains
that have clumps of mist clinging to the peaks. Michelle steps
from the car. She seems impossibly long, and though she unfolds
her arms and legs efficiently, her length lends her movements the
impression of indolence. She stretches, squints into a burst of
sun that has fought through the haze. She shrugs. Yawns. But
already, the music has been shut off, the limbering up has begun.
She's preparing to play.

When Michelle emerges from the clubhouse, the teenage girl has
vanished. In her place, wearing tan golf shoes, khaki slacks, a
yellow polo shirt and a Titleist cap, is the athlete we are
becoming familiar with. But today's passage from school to
course, from student to golfer, from teenager to the Future of
Golf is not yet complete. She slips into the passenger seat of a
golf cart, and B.J. helms them to the 10th fairway, where he lays
out two dozen balls. Bo reads the distance through her range
finder.

"One-hundred-twelve yards," she shouts. B.J. hands Michelle her
nine-iron, and she proceeds to drop 12 straight balls within 20
feet of the pin. It is an impressive display, but something is
bothering Michelle and B.J.

B.J. tells his wife in Korean to check the distance. She holds
the range finder up again and nods. "One-hundred-twelve ...
meters! Sorry." She smiles. "One-hundred-twenty-two yards."

Michelle sighs. Parents. Whatever. And she plops another dozen
onto the green, these landing within 15 feet of the cup.

Later, on the par-5 15th, after trying out a few new fairway
woods, which she carries an easy 250 yards, she shakes her head,
explaining that she doesn't like the way the grips feel. After
putting the covers back on the clubs, B.J. lays out a few more
balls and out comes the driver.

Much has been written and spoken about Michelle Wie's swing. It
has been likened to Tiger Woods's, to Vijay Singh's and, mostly,
to Ernie Els's--hence her nickname, the Big Wiesy, after Els's
Big Easy--but unless you've seen and heard it in person, you
can't really get a sense of her swing's astonishing perfection.
As she addresses the ball with one waggle, takes her customary
one practice swing and then launches a Titleist nearly 310 yards
(about 20 longer than her normal drive), you realize that this is
perhaps the most efficient transfer of energy from a moving
object (her clubhead) to a stationary one (the ball) that you
have ever beheld.

David Leadbetter, the noted instructor and coach, has never seen
this much power in a 14-year-old, girl or boy. "Michelle creates
a tremendous amount of leverage with her swing," he explains.
"You look at most girls her age, and the swings are very willowy.
With Michelle there are these elements of coil and power that are
seldom seen." This swing seems to be the perfect illustration of
Newtonian physics. The energy generated by Michelle's powerful
hips, slender shoulders, long arms and soft hands, seems to
multiply exponentially by the time it reaches the ball. You want
to send an object from here to there and need to figure out the
correct trajectory and velocity? That's easy: Shrink whatever it
is to the size of a golf ball, and let Michelle Wie hit it.

With each swing, she drives home the point: Today's evolution is
complete. She is a golfer. And suddenly, all that we expect of
her, all that we are sure she will be, all that we want and need
her to become, seems not only possible but inevitable.

Think of today as one part of the larger evolution that Michelle
is making. It will be a mutation of the soul and the spirit that
will span months and years; it will involve enlarging muscle mass
and increasing brain power; it will include the hormonal process
by which a girl becomes a woman; it will entail the spiritual
journey of a gifted amateur into a professional; and, even more
burdensome and fascinating, it will require Michelle to publicly
assume the role for which she is being cast--the greatest women's
golfer ever, a potential savior of her sport. And as if that
weren't enough homework for even an A student like Michelle,
she's also supposed to become the first girl who can beat the
boys.

Michelle Wie has arrived at a moment when women's golf is more
than ever in the shadow of the men's game, when despite the
tremendous gifts of Annika Sorenstam and the wave of talented
Korean golfers who have come on the scene in the past few years,
the game seems increasingly an afterthought. Prize money has
barely budged in five years. Total endorsement fees on the LPGA
tour are estimated to be about equal to the $78 million per year
that Tiger commands.

Now here comes this gorgeous Asian-American teenager who is the
youngest winner of a USGA adult championship (the 2003 U.S.
Women's Amateur Public Links, at age 13) and the youngest woman
to qualify for an LPGA event (the 2002 LPGA Takefuji Classic,
which she entered at 12). In March, at the LPGA's first major of
2004, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, she finished fourth, a mere
four shots behind winner Grace Park. Ten weeks earlier, after
shooting a second-round 68, she missed the cut in the Sony Open,
a PGA Tour event, by just one stroke. Indeed, the plan is not
merely for Michelle to dominate women's golf. The Wies expect
that to happen. What Michelle intends to do, what golf experts
and her own coaches believe she can do, is compete on the men's
Tour. She has said her goal is to play in the Masters. (Augusta's
chairman, Hootie Johnson, said during this year's event that he
would welcome her if she qualified.) We're not talking about a
novelty appearance, an Annika or Suzy Whaley teeing it up with
the men, only to remind us, with their shorter drives and
spinless approach shots and loose short games, why golf
tournaments are gender-specific. Michelle is already hitting
longer than some male pros. If she can bridge the gender gap and
regularly contend against the Tigers, the Vijays and the Ernies,
her marketing potential and crossover appeal will enable her to
tap into what she calls "Tiger Woods money."

Wait a second. This girl is 14. She has an honors geometry test
next week. She's going to the mall to see Starsky & Hutch this
afternoon. She's never even won a women's pro event--she'll have
another shot beginning on May 6, at the Michelob Ultra Open--and
we're talking about her beating men? You can dismiss her as
little more than potential. But then watch that swing, watch her
play, spend some time with her, and it all starts to seem
inevitable.

How's this for inevitable? It's 1997 and the single, a middle-aged
weekend duffer, shows up at Honolulu's busy Ala Wai Golf Course,
and the starter asks the handsome Korean family with the gangly
daughter if they'd mind playing as a foursome. They shrug; why
not?

Playing from the whites, the gangly girl tees off first, and
perhaps the weekend duffer should know what sort of afternoon he
is in for when she knocks it 200 yards into the middle of the
fairway. The duffer sizes her up. Around 5'4", long arms and
legs, a hurried, slightly awkward swing that has yet to be tamed
by coaching or lessons. A lucky shot.

About halfway through the front nine, however, the girl,
Michelle, though her golf etiquette is a bit rough--she walks
through putters' lines and taps her foot impatiently while
waiting for her partners to play out--has established herself as
the most consistent player in this foursome, outplaying her
father, who carries a two handicap, and her mother, a four. For
the duffer this is becoming some sort of nightmare. This kid, who
looks as if she's barely 11 or 12, is taking him by two strokes a
hole.

The duffer's game goes from bad to worse. She's beginning to
drive him mad, this girl with her blank expression and
preposterously long tee shots. After seven holes she's at even
par. He's never sniffed par, he confides to his playing partners,
never even played with anyone who has broken par. The awkwardness
of the situation has him pressing: He's slicing his tee shots,
struggling with his short game, three-putting easy greens. By the
9th hole he's a sweating, angry mass of twitches and hitches.
Finally, after another triple bogey, he suddenly declares that he
has a previous engagement and prepares to head back to the
clubhouse. Before he goes, he pauses. "Kid, how old are you?" he
asks Michelle.

"I'm eight," she answers.

So was she born to play golf, as it now appears? "I thought it
was supposed to be easy," Michelle says. "I thought par was
normal, so if I shot three over, I didn't think I was that good."

Her parents--who emigrated from South Korea to Hawaii in 1988 and
are now U.S. citizens--are gifted athletes. Bo, South Korea's
1985 women's amateur champion, taught B.J. the game after they
were married. They knew that something strange was going on
within weeks of Michelle's picking up a club as a four-year-old.
When the girl was seven, her parents began taking her to the
course. "We started in July 1997, and by August she was three
over for nine," B.J. recalls. "No mulligans. Real scores. We were
looking at each other like this was weird."

But the Wies were not prepared for what they saw Michelle doing
on the golf courses of Waikiki in the next few years. "At first I
was just calling my parents in L.A. to boast to them," B.J. says,
"but we weren't sure how you manage something like this."

An only child of doting parents, Michelle had always been
precocious. Bo had begun teaching her the alphabet when she was
six months old; by age one she was spelling. When she was in
fourth grade, "my mom and dad would tear a page out of the

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