Q-School Is Wie’s Only Option

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 17, 2008
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Michelle Wie’s decision to enter Q-School is a smart move. In fact, it is one of the few intelligent decisions she has made since she turned pro three years ago. After ignoring coaches and convention, and dismissing any suggestion that her celebrity-driven, me-first approach to golf advancement was not the best way to go, she has finally come down to earth to dabble among mere mortals.

At least for the time being. May the gods of Olympus smile upon her.

This week, in Rancho Mirage, Calif., against 164 other hopefuls, she will attempt to relaunch her stalled career by doing what ego and business interests wouldn’t let her do - begin small and build experience, confidence and victories before jetting off to win at Augusta. If she finishes among the top 30 and ties at the sectional, she will move on to the final qualifying tournament at Daytona Beach for 90 holes of grinding, nonstop stress.

Just what the impetus was to make such a decision after years of ignoring the advice of others more knowledgeable remains mostly unsaid. Her ever-present father spoke about her having no other alternatives. If that is the case and she is only making this decision because she has run out of options, it’s a rather sad commentary on her approach to the game.

Her coach, David Ledbetter, and even such noteworthy ball-strikers as Annika Sorenstam, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus agreed that her plan of attack was greatly flawed. But she refused to listen. The feeling was, it seems, while it may have been necessary for the aforementioned athletes to develop an amateur game and to flit around at minor tournaments before being good enough to take on bigger competition, “Team Wie” was above such meager pursuits. The world was her oyster and everyone would just have to get used to it.

Unfortunately for the Stanford freshman, the goodwill has vanished and all that remains is the memory of bad behavior and poor performance.

Michelle was, and remains, a great talent and a big star. The fact that she hasn’t won a tournament since the age of 13 was of no concern. Represented by Hollywood image makers and directed by headline-chasing parents, she seemed content to cash her multiple endorsement checks while displaying boorish behavior as she mindlessly insulted sponsors, players and tournament hosts, and the world waited for her to win, or at least, to compete.

Truth be told, the LPGA didn’t do her or the tour any favors by altering its eligibility rules to allow her to play in tournaments such as the 2005 McDonald’s LPGA Championship.

Most interesting is that what once had been the biggest concern about her career, that she was following in the footsteps of another young, attractive and talented athlete who made millions at the same time failing in her primary occupation, now seems like a smart course of action. If she chooses to take it.

In the late 1990s, Anna Kournikova was the poster child of the spoiled athlete who demanded special treatment regardless of poor performance. It didn’t hurt that she could really fill out a tennis outfit. Yeeowww! Fast forward a decade and the now 27-year-old is still wealthy and famous, but has dumped her high-maintenance attitude for one of maturity and community involvement. She is an ambassador and fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club and helped open the first such center in Tijuana, Mexico.

Wie still has a ton of talent. We’ve seen glimpses this year, but without being able to play on a consistent, weekly basis she has not been able to continue the necessary development that will allow her to contend, or to at least make the cut. In seven LPGA tournaments this year - one fewer than the number of exemptions allowable for a non-member - she has missed three cuts, was famously disqualified for failing to sign her scorecard at the State Farm Classic and finished no higher than a tie for 12th, at the Canadian Women’s Open. She did, however, finish sixth in the Ladies German Open, albeit against less-than-stellar competition.

With all her difficulties it’s amazing to think that just three years ago she had three top-five finishes in the tour’s four majors. It’s not hard to imagine such success in the future if she takes the time to correctly develop her game.

With her looks, ethnic makeup, distance off the tee and an improved personality, Wie can still become a standard bearer of her sport and one who can positively affect its global growth. This is the first step. Making it through the grueling test that is Q-School will do much to improve her game and image around the clubhouse. And if she can rediscover the fluid swing she abandoned in search for more distance, then 2008 could be a very successful year. As it is, this year - and this week - is a very important one.

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