Commentary

For Wie, membership will have its privileges in 2009

Originally Published: December 7, 2008
By Eric Adelson | Special to ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- After the final group left the 18th green and all the golf was finished for the week at LPGA Q-school, a fan held up a white poster with black writing. It said, "Yes Wie Can."

That was an appropriate reference to that other Punahou School graduate, Barack Obama, because the road to Michelle Wie's LPGA Tour card Sunday was nearly as knee-knocking as the road to the White House.

Wie walked up the final fairway nervously scanning the leaderboard, afraid she didn't do enough to make the 20-player cut.

She was thinking to herself, "I need to see three letters on that scoreboard right now," she recalled after the round.

Wie stressed over her final par putt, thinking she had to make it. Then she approached the scorer's tent, only to be intercepted by her caddie, who said, "Make sure you sign that card."

Wie is here this week in large part because she forgot to sign her card at the State Farm Classic, resulting in a disqualification.

And even after she emerged from the scorer's tent, Wie asked her mom over and over again if she had really made it, worried something else had gone wrong.

Sure, she entered the day far ahead of the cut, but for a while it looked like she would self-destruct again. She began the day with three straight bogeys -- scores that would have been worse had she not been on a forgiving course.

[+] EnlargeMichelle Wie
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesMichelle Wie struggled, starting her final round of Q-school with three straight bogeys. But the 19-year-old steadied herself enough to earn her 2009 LPGA Tour card on Sunday with a T-7 finish.
Wie missed a 4-foot putt on the first hole, slapping herself in the thigh in disgust. She hooked her second tee shot way left, into a bunker. And she pushed a 5-footer for par wide on the third. Then, on the fourth hole, she blocked her drive way right and had to hustle to save par. She missed her first five greens, and as her coach, David Leadbetter, said, "The demons were floating around in her head."

It looked like yet another frightful Sunday in Wie World. But she didn't collapse.

"I steadied the ship," Wie said later.

The rest of her round was mercifully unspectacular.

Stacy Lewis -- an LPGA Rookie of the Year favorite to be sure -- raced ahead to finish 18-under and win the event. Wie tied for seventh, finishing 12-under over the five rounds. That was good enough.

So it's official: Michelle Wie gets a mulligan.

"I legitimately went to Q-school," she said after her round. "I took my medicine."

And that may mean détente. The Tour will benefit hugely -- Wie and her buzz may be exactly what commissioner Carolyn Bivens needs to get some new momentum for her organization and some new job stability for herself. And Wie has done something to reach out an olive branch to the tour she never really lauded. Even Sunday she said, "I respect [the top women's golfers] 100 percent. Women's golf gets better and better."

There goes her career as an LPGA "freelancer," which she called herself during her first year as a professional in 2006.

"I always felt like I was on the outside," Wie said, "no matter how well I played. … It's a clean slate. I feel really good about it."

LPGA Tour Q-school

1. Lewis (-18)
2. Yang (-15)
3. Grzebien (-14)
T-4. Bader (-13)
T-4. Giquel (-13)
T-4. Oyama (-13)
T-7. Wie (-12)
T-7. Strom (-12)
• Final scores

And moments later, the president of the player's executive committee, Michelle Ellis, reached back out to Wie.

"I wouldn't say there was resentment," she said. "I wouldn't use that word. There was a lack of understanding. More of a confusion. Did she want to play? Did she want to go to school? This is a big step for her to come here. I credit her."

That's a nice little exchange, but don't expect things to go quite so smoothly next year. Wie will still get the huge galleries -- hundreds came out for her Sunday -- while more consistent players and more proven players will get ignored. That will continue to rankle some. The "What has she done?" argument will continue even if Wie finally wins. Just change the refrain to "What's she done? Won one tournament?"

On Sunday, Wie's news conference was standing room only, even though someone else beat her by several strokes. When that someone else -- Lewis -- came in for her press conference, a couple of photographers were heard talking loudly about whether it was a stupid move to draft LaDainian Tomlinson for their fantasy football team.

And the pot will be stirred again by this: Wie still wants to play against the men.

"I still definitely want to do that," she said. "If I start out wanting to do something, I always want to do it."

That sentiment will always cause some to believe Wie is using the LPGA only as a stepping stone.

And even for the golf world in general, forgiving isn't the same as forgetting. Fans will want her to live up to the promise she showed at age 14, not the LPGA Tour status she earned this week at age 19. That's always the price of being a child prodigy.

"You'll never be who you are at 14," said Wie. "I'm not who I was at 16. I move forward."

Will everyone else move forward with her? Going through Q-school was a major step, but not a panacea. The LPGA is tougher than ever, filled with young stars like Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and now Stacy Lewis.

Wie will have a much more difficult time winning than she would have if she joined the tour earlier. Sunday's display by Lewis proves that already. Yes Wie Can get her card. But much like her fellow Punahou alum, President-elect Obama, Wie's truest test begins in 2009.

Eric Adelson's book on Michelle Wie will be released in 2009, but is available for preorder. He can be reached at ericadelson@gmail.com.

Eric Adelson | email

ESPN The Magazine
Eric Adelson was a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.