Europeans Ask Wie To Stay Away

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 08, 2006
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The first real challenge to Michelle Wie’s plan to play against men has finally emerged, and if action is taken it could mean the end of her brave, yet sometimes misguided, assault on the PGA.

George O’Grady, executive director of the European Tour, is the first tour executive to voice what has become a growing concern about Michelle’s ability to compete at the highest level following her dismal performance on the U.S. and European tours this year.

Speaking to reporters at Valderrama Golf Club in San Roque, Spain, O’Grady said, “I had lunch with the president of Omega at Wentworth (in Surrey, England) recently and we both agreed we will do what is in the best interests of everybody concerned, and that includes Michelle Wie. My own personal view is a 16-year-old (her age at the time she played at the Omega European Masters) playing on a course like that, where the top professionals tell me you need to have length and a very powerful short game, it isn’t really in her best interests. I think he’s listened to my opinion. I felt it was the right place to try the initiative. All our players back completely the invitation, but they actually share a concern for her that she should not be put through that torture again.”

While O’Grady’s comments are a departure from his earlier support that praised Wie for her skill as an amateur and as a pro, two consecutive last place finishes and a withdrawal because of heat exhaustion seems to have changed his mind about Wie competing in the event that dates back to 1923.

The Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club in Switzerland is a 6,848-yard brute that rewards distance and accuracy. Wie, who was trying to balance practice, training, business commitments and even high school, seemed completely unprepared for such a challenge. David Ledbetter, her $50,000-a-day man - his daily outing fee reported in the November issue of Golf Digest - said Wie would have been better served not playing in Switzerland. He did acknowledge that business interests could have affected the decision.

Therein lies the crux of the matter. With Wie’s massive appeal comes not only lifetime financial security at the age of 17, but the pressure to be a face for her many sponsors. Michelle is one of Omega’s golf “ambassadors” along with Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia, and it would behoove the company to have her at its signature event. But only if she is able to perform at a competitive level.

For all of Michelle’s talent and celebrity, she has yet to develop the skills and physical ability to compete against men - especially on the world’s tougher courses. And while she has gotten by on looks, personality and potential - future LPGA Hall of Fame potential - that support is quickly dissolving as she is more and more being judged not as a kid but as a professional golfer.

As she should be.

But while the clouds seem to be gathering for the Punahou senior, there is plenty to be optimistic about.

Her future on the LPGA was set with her five top five finishes in six events this year. She has buckets of charisma, intelligence and, most admirable, a tremendous respect for education.

While the world debates the merit of her Ryder Cup and Masters dreams, she is hard at work applying for early entry into Stanford University. Exactly how she will balance college and career remains to be seen, but you have to admire the importance she places on academics.

It remains to be seen if Omega, or any other professional men’s event, will withhold future invitations. If she continues to play poorly against men, it seems very likely, and it would be the right thing to do. One of the great things about professional golf is that you are paid for performance, not potential.

The bottom line is that Michelle has potential, but needs to perform for the invitations to continue.

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