Sister, sister: Identical twins who've taken the golf world by storm

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Aree and Naree Song Wongluekiet are easy to spot on the golf course.

The 13-year-old twin sisters from Thailand always dress the same and pull back their long, dark hair in identical pony tails. Wearing lime green shirts and khaki pants, they resemble mirror images while perfecting their swings next to each other on the practice range at Mission Hills Country Club on Wednesday.

"We're two different people. I don't think she looks anything like me," said Aree, who was born nine minutes after her identical twin and does most of the talking.

Having taken the junior golf world by storm last year, the Wongluekiets are teeing up for the first time on the LPGA Tour.

The 1.25 million Nabisco Championship, the tour's first major of the year, beginning Thursday.

"It's just such a great honor to be invited," said Aree, who shares her sister's admiration for Karrie Webb. "It's a great opportunity to watch the LPGA players up close."

Naree said, "I'm having fun right now. I'll probably be more nervous on the first tee."

The golf world has been watching the Wongluekiets (pronounced Wahn-gloo-KEE-it) since their nine victories and 18 top-five finishes in a combined 23 junior tournaments over the last six months of 1999.

Aree's six victories included the U.S. Women's Junior Amateur title, making her the youngest winner ever. Naree had three wins and four runner-up finishes. The results were mighty impressive for two girls not old enough to compete in major junior events until May 1, when they turned 13.

Aree was No. 2 and Naree was No. 3 in last month's national girls' rankings. Occasionally, confused well-wishers congratulate the wrong sister for a victory.

The sisters practice 3 1/2 hours daily after attending private school in the morning at the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The program emphasizes the mental, physical and nutritional aspects of golf.

"It produces almost a mini tour player," said Jonathan Yarwood, their coach.

But the girls say they still have time to go to movies and hang out at the mall.

The girls were 7 when they tagged after their father and older brother, Chan, to the golf course in Thailand and started playing. Chan, a highly ranked golfer in his own right, is caddying for Aree this week.

Chan came to the United States first, and told his sisters how much he liked it. So their father, Injong Song, sold his hotel in the Thai city of Chang Mai and moved the girls and his wife to Florida.

The sisters made the select Nabisco field on sponsor exemptions, given to top amateurs. The girls will play in different threesomes Thursday, with Naree teeing off one group ahead of Aree.

"We always pull for each other," Aree said. "I'm happy for Naree if she beats me. I certainly want to win, but at the end of the day, she's still my sister and we live together."

They plan to play Monday qualifiers in an attempt to get into three other LPGA tournaments, including the U.S. Open in July.

The youngest girl to turn pro and play the tour wasn't as welcome as the Wongluekiets.

In 1967, Beverly Klass was nine when she played in four tournaments as a pro, including the U.S. Open. Her best finish was 44th - she earned dlrs 131 - before tour players amended their bylaws to keep her out.

Her father, Jack, sued the tour, but by 1970, Beverly refused to compete and regained her amateur status.

Now 43 and a teaching pro in West Palm Beach, Florida, Beverly Klass said her father forced her to turn pro. When she didn't do well, she said her father whipped her with a belt until her back bled and yelled abuse at her on the course.

Yarwood is aware of the pitfalls of having the Wongluekiets play in the adult world of the tour.

"They're good players at this age, but there's a lot of things to avoid, like burnout, overexposure, injury. We've got to protect them as much as possible," he said. "But hopefully, if they keep going on the course that they're on, they're going to be pretty good."