Breaking Ground And Making Par

Susan Page
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Wednesday - June 21, 2006
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“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done”. - Amelia Earhart

Every generation or so someone comes along and says, I want to do things differently.

And everyone says, but you can’t do it that way.

And the person says, why not? And no one really has a good answer but they say, because no one’s ever done it and besides you just can’t.

And the person replies, yes, I can.

Then the ground shifts a bit under the feet of the can’ts, who try to save face by vigorously arguing otherwise. But the shift is permanent. The words have already been planted like a flag staking a claim: I can.

Michelle Wie decided when she was 9years old that she wanted to play in the Masters golf tournament, a men’s tournament, and not only play, but win it. She hasn’t done that yet - she’s only 16 and has just turned professional - and may never accomplish such a seemingly impossible goal. But she plans to try.

And that rocks.

Michelle Wie has got me and hundreds of thousands of others watching not just women’s golf but all golf again. (And some of us are excited about playing again.) Not since Nanci Lopez rocked us back in the late 1970s and ‘80s has there been so much sizzle in women’s golf. After the darling Lopez retired, claiming 48 tourney wins and being the youngest inductee in the LPGA Hall of Fame, it became boring and the golfers, though skilled, were boring, too.That’s because watching sports, in this case golf, is about much more than landing a ball in a hole, hoop, goal or over a net. It’s about human drama, the unexpected, emotion, and appearance.

It’s as much about Tiger Wood’s sculpted physique, confident stride, and movie star smile as his incredible drives and putts. And it wasn’t just that Nancy Lopez won nine tournaments in 1978, her second year as a professional, it was her humor, attitude, and yes, beauty.

Wie, like Lopez before her and Tiger still today, has that indefinable quality we simply call “it” - that extra something which compels us to pay attention. Great LPGA players like hall of famer, Annika Sorenstam, champion Karrie Webb, the youngsters like Morgan Pressel, and the superb Korean players (many with the last name Park) can swing a mean driver and make the birdies, but they simply don’t have “it.”

But while Wie has that special something only very few others have in sports, it’s hard to compare her, though it’s tempting to try. The Mexican-American Lopez, only 12 when she won her first state tournament, is, like Wie, a minority, and set records as a young golfer.

But Wie, still just 16, stands out over and above her 6-foot-1. frame. She has a model-trim figure and doesn’t mind dressing with exceptional style, she moves with uncommon grace, and makes the press laugh out loud with her blunt teenage comments. She makes great television.

She’s a superstar goddess in Japan as well as in her parents’ native South Korea. At age 10, she shot a round of 64 and last week she outplayed Sorenstam, the No. 1 golfer in the world. She drives the golf ball over 350 yards, missed the cut at the PGA’s Sony Open when she was only 14 and wants to play against the best male golfers in the world. And, while the “can’ts” doubt it, some of the best male golfers in the world are betting she can.

“Michelle is 14. Give her a couple of years to get stronger. I mean, she can play on this tour. If she keeps working, keeps doing the right things, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be out here,” said Ernie Els following a practice round with Wie at the PGA Sony Open.

Davis Love III said about her, “She probably has one of the best golf swings I’ve ever seen, period. She’s got a lot going for her. Plus, she’s tall and strong. No telling what she’s going to do when she gets a little older.”

All her impressive golf statistics aside, Michelle Wie’s is not a sports story. Hers is a human story about someone breaking the mold, and just like all trail blazers before her, asking the question the unimaginative simply can’t answer, why not?

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