Michelle Wie needs to earn spot in U.S. Women's Open

Women’s golf veered off its progressive course May 24 with the announcement that Michelle Wie has accepted a U.S. Golf Association special exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open.

The previous week had been a banner one for the women’s game. Then came word that the USGA has decided to reward potential – or perhaps celebrity – rather than accomplishment when it considers the merits of candidates for special exemptions into its national championships.

There’s no question that the 14-year-old Wie is an exceptional talent with a bright future. But is handing her a prized exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open the correct message to send, just as women’s golf is gaining so much momentum around the world? Does it mean that players with the most press can expect free passes into golf’s elite events?

The USGA and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews long have prided themselves in taking pains to identify the best golfers at their various championships.

Offering a special exemption to Wie when so many other players have more enduring credentials cheapens the U.S. Women’s Open.

More to the point, if Wie is so good, she shouldn’t have trouble qualifying for the Open in traditional fashion. And what about her teammates on the Curtis Cup team? None of them has been accorded the same privilege.

The Wie exemption is a thinly veiled attempt to raise the event’s profile. Even worse, it fuels this youngster’s sense of entitlement and is a setback for women’s golf.

Making a stand on slow play

Meanwhile, the LPGA is forging ahead with what might be the most important initiative in golf. During the Sybase Championship, four players were assessed two-stroke penalties under the LPGA’s new pace-of-play guidelines.

At last, a high-profile professional golf organization is making a meaningful, no-nonsense attempt to tackle the game’s most vexing problem. Only the American Junior Golf Association has made similar efforts to combat slow play.

Young-A Yang, Stacy Prammanasudh and Amy Hung ran afoul of the LPGA’s strictly enforced new policy – 30 seconds to execute each shot (with a 10-second grace period) – during the final round of the Sybase, costing each player at least $10,000.

Amateur Nannette Hill, a local teen-ager who was last in the Sybase field, was penalized near the end of Round 1.

In the previous two weeks, Christina Kim was penalized during the Michelob Ultra Open (it occurred while she was playing in the final threesome on Sunday; Kim tied for 16th) and Soo Young Moon lost two strokes because of slow play en route to missing the cut by that margin at the Franklin American Mortgage Championship.

“We’re very encouraged by the results we’ve been seeing so far,” said Barb Trammell, LPGA vice president of tournament operations. “Our average pace of play per round has gone down, as much as 15 to 20 minutes in some circumstances over the last few weeks.”

Kudos to the LPGA for its aggressive stand on slow play. Let’s hope others take the cue.

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