Win Good For Wie And The LPGA

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 02, 2009
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Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel celebrate their victory

With all that has swirled around Michelle Wie for the past few years - bad play, the even worse behavior and the constant criticism of someone who was supposed to revolutionize the sport - one had to wonder what would happen first, a return to near dominance or the acceptance and embracing of her peers. The smart money was on the rediscovery of her game. No matter the personal and professional pitfalls she suffered, her talent was never questioned. Her personality faults, that’s another story.

Wie struggled mightily at times and even those who labeled her a bust or worse, a figment of media-hyped imagination, had to admit it wasn’t too long ago - three years, in fact - that she was threatening to take over the tour. In 2006 she grabbed three top-five finishes in the year’s four majors. A year earlier she scored a T-3 finish at the Women’s British Open and was runner up at the LPGA Championship. As for her errors in attitude, the criticism was real and warranted. Money, adulation and pressure had turned a precocious young teen into an arrogant older teen.

So it came as no surprise when Wie was pictured with her father looking over her shoulder during a practice round for the Solheim Cup. It seemed just another harbinger of bad things to come. Little could we have expected a turnabout of massive proportions.

This was the Michelle Wie we haven’t seen in nearly half a decade - making shots and having fun while playing well with others. It is probably too simple to suggest the turnaround was due solely to her ever-present parents being informed that their presence was not allowed at team functions. But Wie appeared suddenly free. Free from sponsors, parents and expectations, she played with a joy she lost in the push to out-Tiger Tiger and to become not just a golf phenom, but a cultural one. She high-fived her team-mates, offered hugs, accepted them and was just one of the girls. She even found acceptance from her most-vocal LPGA critic, teammate Morgan Pressel who, like most on tour, appreciated the fact that Wie gave up trying to be an image maker and instead took her chances in Q-school. She also made a smart move by hiring former PGA putting stud Dave Stockton to hone her short game.

The Solheim Cup victory was not just great for Wie, but great for the LPGA. The tour needs the help. Even with a plethora of young and attractive talent from all points east and west, the LPGA has lost sponsors, tournaments, ticket buyers and TV viewers because of a bad economy and poor judgment by former commissioner Carolyn Bivens. Bivens is gone, but the problems remain and the tour can’t look to outsiders to fix its problems.

That’s where Wie comes in. TV ratings for the final day of competition were the highest in Solheim Cup history and trailed only the U.S. Womens Open in viewership. Wie still moves the needle. The 19-year-old scores an 84 readers rating on Not bad considering she bested Maria Sharapova (68 by readers, 86 by the editors) and Danica Patrick (a ridiculous 43 by readers and 70 by the editors) in reader appreciation. Sadly, Wie boasts no editorial score nor was any explanation of scoring offered. But if the attitude shift continues so will the success, and no reason will be needed to justify her name on any list - let alone one dedicated to inspiring female athletes.

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