Wie’s Parents Need To Back Off

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - June 13, 2007
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It wasn’t too long ago that Michelle Wie was the precocious teen darling of professional golf who drove her tee shots past the women, kept up with the men and captivated galleries and TV audiences with her combination of the intelligence of a mature young woman and the giddiness of a teen.

Fast forward just a few seasons and the still-talented, yet stillunvictorious golfer is becoming a pariah on the LPGA tour.

She barely raises a blip on the PGA radar except in a Sports Illustrated poll, where members voted her the most overrated pro in a landslide.

It’s a process that didn’t have to happen and one that is not likely to get better until she relegates her mom, dad, trainer, nutritionist, manager, agent, press secretary, physical therapist and her feeling of entitlement to the VIP tent, and starts listening to those who can actually help.

The entire week at the LPGA Ginn Tribute was a microcosm of what’s gone wrong in what is still the early stage of a possibly great career.

Things apparently got testy on Tuesday after head LPGA rules official Doug Brecht ordered the Wie posse off the practice range, citing rules that allow only golfers, their caddies and coaches on the range. This was followed up by reported bad behavior during the pro-am, where for the second week in a row Michelle’s playing partners — those who ponied up thousands to play with her — complained to tournament officials that they had very little interaction with her, and that she often walked off ahead of the group after hitting her shot.

Then things really got weird.

Her father yelled at her to go back to the tee after her shot on 14 disappeared — an action that brought yet another complaint about B.J.’s involvement in a tournament.

“He was too close. He’s always so close to her. You’re going to get your daughter in trouble,” said playing partner Alena Sharp after the round. “Everyone at the range was talking about it.”

A few moments later, while Michelle is flirting with being forced to sit out for the remainder of the year, her manager, Greg Nared, is seen talking on his cell phone to an LPGA official. Chris Higgs, the LPGA’s chief operations officer, suddenly appears along the ropes to talk to the Wies for “no particular reason.” Within minutes, Nared confers with Michelle, who then decides to hang it up, and mom, manager and Michelle are sped off to the clubhouse.

The decision was a smart one because the chances were good that she would have shot higher than 88, and thus be forced to sit out the rest of the LPGA schedule. One can imagine the tremendous pressure from sponsors if her LPGA plans were canceled and she was forced to scramble to find other tours to play on. But that’s not really the problem. Her screw-up was not on what she did, but how they — Team Wie — handled it.

Michelle is the only one who knows for sure how much her injuries influenced her decision to pull out, but she did herself no favors, and further alienated herself from her peers, by hitting the driving range some 36 hours later without even a hint of a doctor’s note. In addition, she ends up insulting the tournament host and the standard bearer of the entire tour, Annika Sorenstam, instead of sitting down with her and explaining the situation.

Sorenstam, who gave out the exemption, said Wie’s actions showed a “lack of respect and class.” Wie countered by saying she doesn’t feel the need to apologize to anyone. She also said it was insulting for her proam partners to complain to officials, and that she had more important things to worry about, such as submitting her housing request to Stanford University for the fall.

The little darling has turned into a big brat.

Team Wie needs to realize that not even her large galleries are enough to keep the exemptions coming in the face of poor performance and boorish behavior. More importantly, they must understand that Michelle needs the LPGA more than it needs her. While Michelle has been jet-setting down to Australia to watch Serena Williams, and to the NBA All-Star Game, the rest of the young, talented field has surpassed her.

Michelle Wie is still only 17 and in need of guidance. The person best suited for that, coach David Leadbetter, seems to have been demoted to a shut-up and- teach role. And that’s too bad. For as young as she is, Michelle’s a professional and will be, and should be, judged as any other person on tour. Her fame and wealth demand that she has people looking out for her, but once between the ropes, she has to be in charge, and mom and dad and the William Morris Agency have to be nothing more than interested spectators.

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