2006: Wie’s crossroad: books or links?

Palm Desert, Calif.

Looking back at 2006, we have seen golf’s version of Groundhog Day, or Groundhog Year: Once again, teenage whiz Michelle Wie was sensational but failed to win a tournament and proved she cannot compete against men.

It has happened three years in a row. Same characters, same plot. Enough of this rerun.

The 17-year-old Wie, a senior in high school, maintains her intention to go to college.

This will change things. Her golf will get worse. No more Groundhog Year.

Here is a challenge for Wie: If she graduates from college, there is a tall, thin, aging golf writer who will eat a Nike golf ball.

Wie eventually must choose between college and golf. For most mortals, there is neither time nor energy to live a double life as a college student and a professional golfer.

Here is an educated guess: She will postpone college for golf. She wants to attend Stanford, a school that offers only so many classes in basket-weaving, bogey-making and three-putting. The academic pressure on Wie would be enormous.

Not to mention the social pressure. Dating so far has taken a backseat to golf, but soon enough, the boys will come knocking.

Some of us worry about criticizing Wie, but this young woman appears lost in wonderland.

When last seen in the continental United States, she was posting scores of 74-72-72-75 at the LPGA’s Samsung World Championship. That positioned her a distant 21 strokes behind winner Lorena Ochoa.

When last seen outside the U.S., she was shooting 81-80 at the Casio World Open, a men’s event in Japan.

Wie, who turned 17 during the Samsung, is a kid playing the grownup game of professional golf. At 6-foot-1, she looks like an adult. She dutifully attempts to talk like an adult, too, but she can’t pull it off. She may be able to hit 300-yard drives, but she fails at her off-the-course womanly impersonation. She lacks the indispensable experience, along with the insight that comes with it.

In making the case that 2006 was a roller-coaster year for Wie, there is an obvious retort: Yeah, she made more money in one year (an estimated $10 million to $20 million) than most of us could make in multiple lifetimes.

But money isn’t the point.

Decisions have to be made in the Wie camp: Is she a golfer or is she a student? Even in high school, she seems to be proving she cannot excel at both. If the choice is to be a golfer, should she continue to play in men’s tournaments? Evidence suggests she may be damaging her golf game by playing in the same high-pressure arena with stronger, unrelenting, more mature men. Coming off two men’s events, she finished 17th in a field of 20 at the Samsung.

Wie played in 13 professional tournaments in 2006. Of those 13, five were men’s events.

In outings against men, her scoring average was 77.87. In appearances against women, including four major championships, her scoring average was 70.85.

Wie has said she wants to be the best female golfer in the world. Well, the path to No. 1 is clearly marked: Play only against women and play as frequently as possible. She still is searching for her first victory in a women’s professional event and desperately needs to obliterate this obstacle in her career. It would bolster her self-confidence and silence her critics.

At the Samsung, the tall, thin Wie resembled the leaning tower of Pisa. She swung fast. She frequently was out of balance. She looked wobbly.

Inexplicably, Wie continued to talk like a champion. “Well, I felt like I was very close to playing really well this week, you know,” she said after completing 72 holes. “You know, I didn’t feel comfortable with my tee shots. But, you know, I definitely know what else to work on. My irons felt good, and my putting felt good, and, you know, I just feel like it’s getting better and better. Sometimes you have to take a step back to get better.”

We know, you know.

Asked to pick one or two memorable moments from her first year as a professional, she pondered the question and finally answered, “Playing well in the majors (three top-5 finishes), being dragged off at the John Deere (a PGA Tour event where she withdrew with heat exhaustion).”

Next, she was asked this stumper: “If there is anything this past year you would change, what would it be?”

How about the 72nd hole of Kraft Nabisco, where two shots from the fringe would have earned a first-place tie? Well, no. “I probably would have tried to hydrate myself more, stay out of the sun,” she said.

Now this Stanford thing. Attending college undoubtedly would transform Wie into an articulate athlete, which would be refreshing, although real life probably would have the same effect.

Wie’s parents, B.J. and Bo, are intelligent and sensitive. But it’s difficult to understand how they figure their only child can go to college and play professional golf at the same time.

Even if she were to take classes half the year and play golf the other half, the demands of each would weigh heavily on the other. College is a full-time commitment, and so is competitive golf.

The bottom line: Because she declared herself a professional golfer, she is obligated to devote herself to that pursuit. If she desires the full college experience, immersing herself in the academic and social environment, she should think about abandoning golf for four years and concentrating on Stanford.

Who knows how to prepare that Nike ball? Baked Nike? Nike Parmesan? Nike on a stick? Nike James?

So many decisions, for Michelle Wie and those of us who follow her.

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