2004: Perspective - Point/Counterpoint
Point: Wie’s freebie on potential, not merit
It happened in an instant and without a hint of forewarning. With the final turn of a Titleist Pro V1x, Michelle Wie collapsed into her mother’s arms. Suddenly the teen terminator looked every bit the fragile 14-year-old.
On June 27, Ya-Ni Tseng pulled off what is arguably the biggest stunner in golf since Phil Mickelson sent his major monkey packing at Augusta. Tseng’s 8-footer for birdie ended her final-match duel with Wie at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and peeled the lid off a controversial can of worms the U.S. Golf Association would have preferred remained sealed.
The statue of limitations on Wie’s lone national victory has run out, and without it, the USGA’s strangely generous free pass into this week’s U.S. Women’s Open suddenly smacks of sensationalism.
Are we to believe that Wie’s presence at the Orchards is needed to assure a successful national championship? At 14? Cicadas simmer longer than that.
Wie’s special exemption into the Open seemed dubious from the outset but her 2003 WAPL title offset some of the handwringing. But now the hole in her resume is hard to ignore.
If this is about moving the needle, then the USGA seems to have put the cart before the cradle.
So far, Wie’s career is overrun with “respectable” performances. She’s narrowly missed cuts at PGA Tour (Sony Open) and Nationwide Tour (Boise Open) events and clawed her way onto LPGA leaderboards, yet the winner’s circle has become as foreign to her as a three-shot par 5.
This prodigy is a perfectionist. She’s driven by a desire not to be good but an innate belief that she was meant to be great.
“The only thing that will hold her back is if she didn’t dream about playing in the Masters and playing on the PGA Tour,” said Gary Gilchrist, Wie’s coach and director of golf for the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. “If her goals and her dreams were lower, they would have hindered her completely with the talent she has.”
But the Open exemption has nothing to do with Wie’s dreams and little to do with her prodigious talent.
What else would explain Wie’s free pass while other equally deserving players went through qualifying?
What of Paula Creamer, a fellow Curtis Cup player who finished runner-up at last month’s ShopRite LPGA Classic, or Liz Janangelo, college golf’s player of the year? Do victories at prestigious amateur and college events mean nothing if not accompanied by a national spotlight?
“She’s 14 and she’s doing what she’s doing. She deserves the press and attention,” said Brittany Lang, a teammate of Wie’s at last month’s Curtis Cup. “But I didn’t think (the exemption) was necessary. We all deserved it, but that’s not the way they wanted it.”
What the USGA wanted was a swinging sideshow. A sweet storyline that gives a new, and disturbing, meaning to special exemption.
Counterpoint: USGA chooses right on Wie
The U.S. Golf Association got this one right. Granting 14-year-old Michelle Wie an exemption to this week’s U.S. Women’s Open was entirely appropriate. It was wise-hearted and courageous.
The USGA knew there would be complaints, yet it acted boldly. This golf prodigy should be playing in the U.S. Women’s Open, and this exemption makes infinitely more sense than the normal package of tired old nostalgic exemptions awarded to veteran players on the downside of their grand careers.
Honestly, would you rather watch Smarty Jones or old Glue Shoe?
I’m not decrying the fact that Raymond Floyd was slipped an exemption to the recent U.S. Open. It was a tribute to the fabulous golfer that he was, but let’s admit it: The man can’t dance any more.
The whimperbrains didn’t complain about that one, but give them a chance to bellyache about the planet’s best 14-year-old golfer being handed a hall pass and, hey, they will scream bloody bogeys.
Make no mistake – Wie earned this. She won a national championship, the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, at 13. She played on the international Curtis Cup team at 14. And, oh yes, she finished fourth in a women’s major, the 2004 Kraft Nabisco, whipping Annika Sorenstam and most of golf’s professional elite.
Such accomplishments are so rare that rewarding her with a U.S. Open exemption should not be questioned. Golf should be in the business of promoting young talent, not swatting it away like some pesky mosquito.
If it were up to me, I would give more exemptions to more young amateurs. Would this mean a loss of tournament spots for the tortured legion of touring pros? Yes, but golf has a clear communal yardstick, and those with talent rarely are denied for long.
Wie possesses the ability to become the youngest U.S. Open champion, man or woman, in history. The only winner under 20 was John McDermott who, 93 years ago in 1911, won the U.S. Open at the age of 19 years, 10 months and 14 days. The youngest woman was Se Ri Pak at 20 years, 9 months, 8 days in 1998.
Wie has six more U.S. Women’s Opens in which to wipe out these records.
Her critics could be accused of practicing reverse age discrimination. Forget age; the gifted always have stood at the front of the line in golf. To the laughable suggestion that she should be playing junior tournaments all summer, Wie has leapfrogged directly to the front of that ageless line.
And yet the faultfinders still bellow their flimsy arguments to the wind. Golf is the most wonderful game in the world, but it also is a game that fosters whining and wailing among its most immature fans and participants.
My advice to the mudslingers: Fuss, fume and grow up, in that order.
Wie may be only 14, but it is the critics who are acting like adolescents.