Listening to Michelle Wie giggle with her peers Thursday at the LPGA State Farm Classic, she could have been any other happy, silly college kid - any other happy, silly college kid who happened to make more endorsement money last year than Peyton Manning, Shaquille O'Neal or Jeff Gordon.
Michelle Wie had the gang in stitches at the 13th tee as she recalled the "trick" played on her last fall by Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh.
"He invites me to practice and introduces me and all of a sudden he says: 'Say a couple of wise words to the team, Michelle,'" Wie said, cracking up as she told the story to Allison Hanna-Williams, A.J. Eathorne and their caddies.
"So I'm like, 'Um, play hard, guys ... do well ... you can do it.' And they're all looking at me like, 'What the hell is she saying?' It was sooooo embarrassing!"
This is an angst-filled teenager with the weight of the world on her shoulders?
Listening to her giggle with her peers Thursday at the LPGA State Farm Classic, she could have been any other happy, silly college kid - any other happy, silly college kid who happened to make more endorsement money last year than Peyton Manning, Shaquille O'Neal or Jeff Gordon.
Wie spent much of her day at Panther Creek Country Club smiling, and for good reason: She posted her lowest U.S. score in two-plus years, a 5-under-par 67.
She had the gallery oohing and aahing at her booming drives, celebrated five birdies with fist pumps and elicited one of the day's biggest roars with a 100-yard pitch for eagle on No. 15.
"I told (caddie Tim Vickers), 'Let's just get a tap-in birdie here,'" she said. "But it went right into the hole and I was like, 'Oh, that's cool, too.' I wasn't really expecting it, so it was a really good surprise."
"A really good surprise" also works as a description for Wie's round.
Battling wrist injuries, self-doubt, a wayward swing, putting troubles, bad advice and far more controversies than seemed possible for an 18-year-old, Wie left a trail of missed cuts, tournament withdrawals, caddie changes and frustrations.
The last time I had seen her play was at the 2005 John Deere Classic. Though she narrowly missed the cut in the PGA Tour event, she more than held her own against the men. Stardom was a given. She turned professional, had top-five finishes in the first three majors of 2006 and put together several other fine showings (though no victories). Then, mysteriously, her career hit a wall.
Some in golf circles blame her mother and father, calling them overbearing stage parents who made her turn pro too soon for the endorsement money. The result: Michelle caved under the pressure.
Those of us on the outside can't know if her parents' influence adversely affected her career. What we do know is this: She's still very young. She talks and acts like the teenager she is, and her golf bag is adorned with stuffed animals.
Tiger Woods was almost 21 when he won his first PGA event. Wie doesn't turn 19 until October, by which time she'll be back at Stanford (she left in March to concentrate on golf).
It's far too early to dismiss her as a mere curiosity.
"People have had a lot of speculation about her and how her career is gonna progress," said Christina Kim, the first-round leader at 9-under. "But the fact that she can show them, 'Hey, I can shoot 5-under on a great championship golf course,' it does sort of stick it to them a little bit."
Wie's swing was smooth, powerful and accurate. She displayed deft touch around the greens and had a winner's confident body language. Had she gotten a bit luckier on three putts that lipped out, her score really would have opened eyes.
Asked if the "old" Michelle was back, Wie frowned and said: "I don't even know what the old Michelle is anymore. That was then. The old Michelle already happened and I already put it in a box somewhere. It's a new age. I feel like just moving along, moving forward."
The old Michelle ... a new age ... whatever. It sure was fun to watch.
A minute after she finished her Stanford football story, she split the fairway with a 308-yard drive. Hanna-Williams and Eathorne laid up on their second shots at the 531-yard hole, but Wie had to wait for the green to clear.
"If I could hit it like her," Hanna-Williams said, "I wouldn't mind the wait."
An anxious golf world seemingly has waited forever for Michelle Wie. She's only 18. Her story hasn't been written yet.
Mike Nadel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a GateHouse News Service sports columnist. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.