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Teen dreams crowd U.S. Women’s Open

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. – Michelle Wie had reason to feel old, and it had nothing to do with sore wrists and high scores.

On her way to Pine Needles for the U.S. Women’s Open, she drove past Legacy Golf Links, where the 17-year-old from Hawaii played her first tournament on the mainland at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.

She was 10.

It was the first time she could remember not being able to see the ocean. The first time she went to the practice range and the golf balls were not yellow with a black stripe. She remembers crying after every shot, something she laughs about now.

How long ago does that seem?

“I kept thinking it was like four years ago,” Wie said Tuesday. “But that would only make me 14. It was actually seven years ago. It kind of makes me feel a little bit old now.”

In an area steeped in Southern hospitality where no one is in a hurry, time sure flies.

Just ask Morgan Pressel.

She returned to Pine Needles as the youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history. Six years ago, she showed up as a 13-year-old in braces, the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history. One of her biggest thrills was meeting Karrie Webb and Lorie Kane, and having girls only a few years younger asking for her autograph.

Pressel isn’t even in the record books anymore.

She was replaced this year by Alexis Thompson, who is not among the 24 teenagers at Pine Needles because she’s only 12. She shot rounds of 71-72 to become the youngest qualifier in tournament history.

Webb never would have seen this coming.

She thought she did well to win the Women’s British Open (before it counted as a major) at age 20, and earn her LPGA Tour card in her first attempt that year despite playing with a broken bone in her hand.

Webb won the U.S. Women’s Open the last time it was held at Pine Needles in 2001, and while she’ll never forget that feeling of hoisting the biggest prize in her sport, she also remembers all the attention early in the week on Pressel.

Two years later, Webb teed it up with two 13-year-olds at the U.S. Women’s Open – Wie and Sydney Burlison. Pressel returned that year as a grizzled veteran at age 15. Paula Creamer made her major championship debut at age 16.

Since then, the numbers have been rising.

There were five teenagers in the field at Pine Needles in 2001, then 14 at Pumpkin Ridge in 2003 and 25 teens last year at Newport.