Picking The Right Path For Wie

Bobby Curran
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Friday - July 09, 2005
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As Michelle Wie tees off this week in the PGA’s John Deere Classic in Quad Cities, the debate on the 15-yearold’s career path will rise to fever pitch. Should she be playing against the men? Should she stick to LPGA events? Or even go back to a concentrating on amateur events?

No matter what course Team Wie decides to travel, there will be more critics than chip shots chiming in with their recommended scenarios.

Team Wie consists of Michelle, her parents, coach David Ledbetter and possibly a small number of others who will decide how best to develop the women’s answer to Tiger Woods.

Some are howling for Wie to turn pro immediately, holding that her attraction to companies with big endorsement bucks will wane as she gets older. Call this the financial model. But remember, Tiger Woods was in a similar spot — attractive because of his youth and incredible talent. Could anyone say his popularity has diminished in any way as he approaches 30? His first Nike deal was inked in 1996 for $40 million over five years. His next five-year contract was more than double, estimated between 80 and 90 million bucks. Even if you adhere to the financial model, there is no hard evidence that Wie’s continued amateur status is going to cost her big cash, although it’s obvious that declaring pro now would financially secure the next five generations of her family.

Then there’s the victory model. Proponents of this believe that Wie will become accustomed to and satisfied with top 10 finishes if she continues to play LPGA events, and will view making the cut in men’s tournaments as a worthy goal. The result of this is that Wie will never “learn to win.” I would contend, however, that Wie’s outing on the Sunday of the U.S. Open — while not what she hoped for — was a big step in learning how to win. Ask anyone, athlete or coach, about how you improve in a sport. Do you get better by squashing people you’re superior to squash? Or does improvement come from playing those better than you? Having Wie play against other teenagers seems a step backward. And this “learning how to win” thing is vastly overrated. Did learning how to win help folks like Martina Hingis or Lleyton Hewitt in tennis? Both won major titles years ago. Did they forget how to win? In fact, the best player wins, and the way to be the best player is to improve your game. Retief Goosen does not have victory amnesia; the two-time U.S Open winner just had a bad day on Sunday of the men’s Open. And U.S Open Champion Michael Campbell triumphed despite not having won so much as a pro-am in about a decade. So much for winning as learned behavior.

The third theory is the “You go girl” model. Put me firmly in this camp. The tenets here are that Wie is steadily improving, has perhaps the sweetest swing on any tour, is a model of composure and is actually having fun. The mantra for this model is easy. Just keep repeating, “She’s 15, she’s 15.” Think about where you were and what you were doing when you were 15. Then ask yourself how proud you’d be if she was your daughter.

So what if some people hate that she wants to someday play in the Masters, and is taking steps to try and realize that dream.

And why worry when people carp about her exemptions and invitations? The hard truth is that Michelle Wie is a bona fide attraction. TV ratings for the Women’s Open were up 81 percent. Galleries are said to be up 60 to 70 percent when she plays. Soon every LPGA player will see their pay rise as sponsor money pours in and purses increase — all because this Hawaii girl with the big drives and bigger smiles is in the house.

Criticize all you want, but I’m tuning in this weekend and I’ll have a single thought:

You go, girl!

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