She’s Famous, But Can Wie Win?

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - June 14, 2006

Madonna, J-Lo, Beyonce, Mariah, Liz, Michelle - I would wager a sizeable bet of tens and tens of cents that you could identify each of the aforementioned women simply by their first names.

Madonna is, well, Madonna. J-Lo is Jennifer Lopez. Beyonce is Beyonce Knowles, lead singer of Destiny’s Child and occasional movie star. Mariah is Mariah Carey, greatest-selling female vocalist of all time, and Liz is none other than film legend and marriage maven, Elizabeth Taylor.

Now, who could Michelle be? At the ripe old age of 16, Michelle Wie is poised to become the next one-name celebrity extraordinaire. Some would say she is already there. Well, in the game of golf, there is no other star that shines brighter. She is the only one who manages to make some people whisper, “Tiger who?”

Wie has proven, in her quest to become the only woman to compete in the PGA United States Open, that she has transcended the game. Although she tantalized the crowd for an afternoon in New Jersey, she eventually came up short and just missed qualifying for arguably golf’s most prestigious event.

Those who were not became golf fans because of Michelle Wie. She is a wonderful ambassador for the game and Hawaii, and although Charles Barkley would disagree, she is a tremendous role model for kids. The message she lives tells young girls that anything is possible. She is right.

Here is the question on many people’s minds: “Where are the wins?” The admiration for her game, maturity and celebrity is inevitably countered with critics pointing out her lack of victories. Yes, she did win the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Publinx Championship. She was the youngest ever to do so. However, in the game of golf, that win is ancient history. Consequently, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” as Janet sings (see, only one name) is becoming the chorus to Michelle’s songs of adulation.

Here is the bottom line. Michelle Wie has accomplished more than what others can only dream of. Her talent on the golf course is unquestionable. Her charisma endears her to legions of fans around the world. Her financial security at 16 is gratifying to see. But although she is a bona fide star, her stage is competitive athletics.

There is a difference in stardom between persona and performance. The career of Anna Kournikova is a prime example. As a world junior tennis champ, she turned pro at 14. Despite major victories as a doubles player, she never won a singles tournament. But she did become one of the most recognizable models. Now retired, Kournikova is successful. But as Anna the model, and not as Anna the tennis champion.

I am hopeful Michelle will not be Kournikova-ed. Her passion for the game and her extraordinary talent demand victories, whether competing against men or women. Her star is shining brightly, and I am delighted at her emergence. However, winning is the final arbiter of greatness.

If you determine success by dollars, she has already acquired riches beyond imagination.

But, especially in golf, your mark on the game becomes more indelible with each victory. Michelle has indeed made her mark on the game via her sheer celebrity status.

But will she rise to the level of Jack, Arnie, Annika or Tiger?

Or will she, like Kournikova, attain fame but not greatness?

Only time and victories will tell.

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