2006: A Wie bit of advice: Be patient
Michelle Wie the teenager returned to her junior year of high school this week. There were exams to take, papers to write, friends to text message. She even has to plea for loans on those rare days she forgets her lunch money. The biggest event of her week: an appointment to take her driver’s license test.
This is what normal 16-year-olds do.
In between the papers and exams, Michelle Wie the pro rolled out to the Sony Open. It’s a PGA Tour event in her backyard, on the scenic island of Oahu, and females don’t usually get to play. She crashed harder than the nearby waves on Day 1, and after a disheartening 79 filled with unforced errors, she showed up anew for Round 2 and blistered the place. She made seven birdies and signed for 68. In winds gusting to 35 mph, only 11 men in the field (less than 8 percent) shot lower.
This is not what normal 16-year-olds do.
So where do we stand on Michelle Wie? Tall and slender, a towering 6 feet high, she stands above her class in many ways, both physically and symbolically. She has become a lightning rod, a polarizing force. A contradiction in golf spikes.
The same kid who heads off to high school classes each morning is the multimillionaire pro named among Time’s People Who Mattered in 2005. Hey, not many golfers get paid $1.5 million to travel to Japan just to try to make a cut.
Is she the kid or the pro? People are digging in deeply in their belief she cannot be both. Funny that she lives in Hawaii, of all places. Here, the gentle trade winds, the incandescent sunshine, the azure waves . . . they blend to make a scene so leisurely, so serene. And yet the state’s most famous athlete is expected to go 0 to 60 faster than a Lamborghini.
Should Wie be playing against the men? You bet. Not a steady diet of it, mind you. At the Sony Open, played in her backyard in Oahu, it’s something that seems right. She is the show. Playing against the men on a PGA Tour course is something that stretches her horizons and sharpens her game. It’s something that challenges her, toughens her. She’s 0-for-7 now against the men, and rest assured, she’ll be back for more. There’s substance behind the circus.
“I think it wears a bit thin on everyone if she were to keep missing all the cuts,” Adam Scott said before Wie teed off. “But there’s no doubt she’s good enough to make the cut.”
It’s an opinionated world, and everyone seems to have one regarding the raising of Michelle Wie. She ought to be playing and winning junior events, they used to say. She ought to stick to playing women’s events, they now say. Why doesn’t she do it the way Tiger Woods did it? the frequent refrain goes.
Ever stop to think maybe she doesn’t want to be Tiger Woods? Maybe she wants to be something even bigger. Could you imagine? She can.
The seed of hot inquisition is why the most talented 16-year-old on the planet – male or female – has a trophy shelf that is hardly sagging under any great weight. Frankly, her schedule has been one of “can’t-lose” starts, dates against the top men and women pros in which failure isn’t only accepted, but pretty much expected.
On one hand, where’s the nobility inherent in teeing it up among a field of 144 men when finishing 70th would be considered grand?
On the other, making a PGA Tour cut would constitute history, joining Babe Zaharias in an accomplishment not achieved in more than six decades.
When Wie tees it up against the men of the PGA Tour, it’s a total exam in which every part of her game is held to the light. Driving, long irons, short game, putting. When she shot 79 in the opening round, pressing herself into three double bogeys in a rocky start, she looked like a lost lamb. A day later, when she made seven birdies in the wind and shot 68, it was deserving of an adjective three rows up from impressive.
Is she on the right path? Is she playing the right schedule, against the right competition? Should she be sticking to the LPGA, where she can get only eight starts but winning might be an option? Short of a crystal ball, nobody really knows or truly has the answers. And that just doesn’t cut it for some in this Google-me-now, instantaneous world.
“Obviously that is an issue,” her famed instructor, David Leadbetter, says of the lack of victories on Wie’s resume, “and one that will only be answered when she actually does (win).”
Leadbetter has trained major winners, from Nick Faldo to Nick Price to Ernie Els. So what tells him that Wie, her giant potential aside – sorry, there’s the “P” word again – has that little something extra to one day win big titles?
“I think it’s somehow within her,” he explained. “It’s almost like the instinct of a lion cub who is trained to kill. She has that competitive instinct within her. She is competitive in everything she does. Yes, you’d have to say that winning is something that you practice. But my feelings are that when she comes down the stretch (with a chance to win), I don’t think there’s going to be anything that is going to stop her. Emotions or nerves won’t get in her way.
“She has that inner strength. Just to do what she’s doing, she’s getting hardened. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on her, and I don’t think it’s going to be any greater. . . . Time will tell.”
Her Jekyll-Hyde performance at the Sony was part of the process. Will she be special? Can she be a once-in-a-lifetime talent? Or will she become some golf footnote? Ah, time will tell. That’s the old standby.
At 16, Wie should have all the time in the world. But the reality is, she doesn’t. Not with a public that is growing impatient and wants to see the tires soon meet the road on Potential Avenue.