Critics are overlooking Wie's wonderful story
16-year-old golfer learning to win toughest way imaginable
By John MacKinnon
Monday, July 31, 2006
Michelle Wie waves to the crowd in Evian-les-Bains, central eastern France, on the last of the four days of the Golf Evian Masters.
All right, this is starting to get on my nerves.
Michelle Wie lost another LPGA tournament on the weekend, failing to defeat tour veterans Karrie Webb and Laura Davies, despite shooting a four-under-68 in the final round of the Evian Masters event in France. Webb also shot 68.
Can't this kid close, her many critics chirp? She had the lead, for Pete's sake, after she birdied the 11th hole on the final round, but she stumbled -- again -- and had to settle for a second-place tie with the 42-year-old Davies, who shot 67.
Sure, she's photogenic, charming, well-spoken and has a swing just about any male golfer anywhere would guiltlessly abandon the wife and kids for. Oh, and she is set-for-life rich owing to
endorsement mega-deals she has signed despite -- have we covered this? -- not having won on the LPGA tour. A tour, it should be noted, that won't let her join fulltime until she turns 18. Which, by the way, won't occur until October 2007.
In other words, in addition to being runner-up in France, she has placed third in two other LPGA majors this season and fifth in another, as a 16-year-old girl!
It means that on Saturday, this teenager played stroke-for-stroke with Webb, an LPGA Hall of Famer, and finished in a dead heat with Davies, who was the LPGA's monster player about a decade ago.
How many 16-year-olds in any sport can pit their A-game against the very best competitors out there and acquit themselves as well as Wie?
And yet the vipers in the media have all sorts of issues with Wie: Why can't she win? What's she doing playing in those PGA events anyway? Isn't she just a product of hype? Why can't she win?
Until the stomach turns.
You would think hers would be a no-brainer, feel-good story in an age so dominated by the cynicism, cheating, betrayal and laughably lame excuses offered up by the likes of sprinter Justin Gatlin, slugger Barry Bonds and cyclist Floyd Landis.
Gatlin, the world's fastest man with his tongue as well as his feet, it seems, has blamed a positive test for testosterone on the sabotage of a disgruntled associate.
The curious thing is the public and many members of the media seem predisposed to cut the cheaters huge chunks of slack.
And the worst that can be said of Wie?
Well, despite oodles of hype dating back to when she won the U.S. women's amateur public links championship as a 13-year-old, she has yet to take hold of women's golf by the throat and emerge as its dominant player. As a 16-year-old. Not even Tiger Woods was that God-like.
And, of course, she has dared to accept sponsor's exemptions to play on selected PGA Tour events, including the recent John Deere Classic, which she failed to complete after falling victim to heat stroke. Hey, some of those PGA types, including, notably, Vijay Singh, complained when Annika Sorenstan teed it up at Colonial a few years back.
Some men can't hack it psychologically when a woman comes out to play. They diminish themselves with their petty complaints.
As much as anything, Wie is a victim of her own precocious brilliance.
Last year, she was tied for the lead entering the final round of the women's U.S. Open. She shot an 82 in the final round, finished 23rd and the critics tut-tutted about her inability to handle pressure.
This year, she was tied for the Open lead after 54 holes, shot 73 and missed qualifying for an 18-hole playoff by two shots. The playoff was won by the Hall of Famer Sorenstam, the best player in LPGA history, it says here.
Wie is learning to win in the toughest way imaginable -- on the fly, on national TV, in the final rounds of the most important events on the LPGA tour, under the withering scrutiny of a critical media who have clearly lost their capacity for wonder. It's apparent that her game -- particularly her short game -- is becoming more detailed, if not every time out, then certainly every year. It takes time. For anybody, let alone a teenager.
Still, impatient critics gripe about her butting up against her limitations, about having to prove she can win the big one, as if she were a mature athlete.