Learning From A Wee Wie Mistake

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - October 26, 2005

Michelle Wie may have lost a golf tournament, but she has won something more than a title or paycheck. She has demonstrated a grace under pressure and a sense of class which we would never had seen if not for the unfortunate events over the weekend.

If you missed it, Michelle was disqualified from the Samsung World Championship golf tournament. To exacerbate the disappointment of a DQ, this happened to be her professional debut. As fans, we have been anticipating her official foray into the professional ranks and I am certain she had dreamed of this day for years. I have a feeling being booted out of her first tournament was not the dream ending she envisioned.

All seemed well at the beginning of the tournament. Michelle celebrated her 16th birthday while preparing for her first round. She received a warm welcome from the players, media and locals. All seemed good to go, and it was.

To make a long story short, Michelle got into some trouble on the 7th hole of the third round. She played a 5-wood into some bushes, but was able to find her ball. Now the rules of golf address virtually every scenario a player may encounter on the course. When Michelle found her ball, she was unable to take a swing. Called an unplayable lie, the rules state you may put the ball back into play by dropping two club lengths out of the trouble spot, but the ball cannot come to rest closer to the hole. The player is assessed a stoke penalty, but is able to continue play. Pretty straight forward stuff, right? Well ...

Golf is a wonderful sport because it is one of the few where the score is kept by the player. That responsibility also comes with accountability. The player is solely responsible for keeping and submitting a correct score. The violation which led to her disqualification was the signing and submission of an incorrect scorecard. How did that happen?

While Michelle was going through the finding, dropping and playing of her ball, Michael Bamberger, a Sports Illustrated reporter, was watching the whole thing. He believed Michelle dropped the ball closer to the hole, a violation of rule. By dropping the ball closer to the hole and not further, there would be an additional one stroke penalty, for a total of two. Since Michelle finished the hole with her drop, she made a great save for par and recorded her score with a one-stroke penalty.

Michelle went on to finish her round, signed the card and turned it in to officials. After the round, Bamberger approached Michelle and expressed his concern. As a reporter, you ask these questions. She reportedly responded that she thought she followed the rule correctly and it was a non-issue.

Michelle’s final round was a roller coaster. Down, then up and down again. Her gutsy play during the final round of her first tournament as a professional garnered her a fourth place finish. Her paycheck was about $53,000, and this time she could keep it. Not a bad debut.

Instead of celebrating her finish, Michelle was contacted by scoring officials. There was a question raised about her handling of the dropped ball on Saturday. Officials reviewed the tape and it was inconclusive as to whether Michelle violated any rules. So officials asked Michelle and her caddy Greg Johnston to return to the hole and re-enact the drop. They did and the officials determined that Michelle did drop closer to the hole - a two-stroke penalty. By signing and submitting her scorecard with an incorrect score, Michelle was DQ’d.

During this maelstrom of emotion, this carnival of media attention and the swirl of controversy, Michelle emerged as a mature, poised and capable professional. This from a girl who turned 16 just days before. There could have been understandable bursts of anger, frustration and bitterness. But there wasn’t. Her handlers could have filed grievances, challenges and protests. They didn’t. Instead, we heard words of acceptance. We heard words of education. We heard words of positivity.

I know more could be said about this whole situation. I know there are other controversial sides to this story. But what impressed me the most was how this young lady conducted herself with such style and aplomb. I hope those who were concerned about her turning pro will rest assured that not only is Michelle ready to be a professional, she has proven she already is.

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