- Ron Sirak, Golf
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HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. -- The turmoil simmering ever so slightly below the surface last week at the Ginn Tribute moved several degrees closer to boiling over Tuesday when Annika Sorenstam, hostess of the Ginn event, gave Michelle Wie a chance to apologize for leaving early, and the tempestuous teen slapped away the olive branch. For the second consecutive week, an LPGA event appeared poised to be hijacked by controversy surrounding the tour's most prominent nonmember.
Things started to heat up Thursday when Wie, who was 14-over after 16 holes, walked off the course saying she had reinjured her left wrist. The water began churning in earnest on Saturday when word reached Mount Pleasant, S.C., that Wie was practicing at Bulle Rock, site of this week's McDonald's LPGA Championship.
The fact that LPGA members are not allowed to play a tournament course the week before an event added insult to doubts players already had about Wie's injury. Many players felt she withdrew from the Ginn to avoid being banned from LPGA events for the rest of the season by an obscure rule that says a nonmember of the tour who shoots 88 or higher is disqualified for the year.
Reflecting a sentiment shared by many of her fellow players, Sorenstam said Tuesday, "I just feel there's a little bit of lack of respect and class just to kind of leave a tournament like that and come out and practice here. You know, I just don't know the situation, if it's injury or whatever it is. It just seemed really weird."
Wie, given an opportunity to respond to Sorenstam, said: "I don't really feel like I have to apologize for anything. I just have to take care of my body and move forward and only think of positive things."
When Wie left RiverTowne CC on Friday, more than her left wrist was bruised. Sources familiar with the situation said her pro-am playing partners were less than enthused with her hospitality and tournament organizers were left feeling the sponsor's exemption they extended to her was not appreciated.
Problems at Bulle Rock began in Monday's pro-am. According to several sources, Wie's playing partners at the McDonald's again complained that she would walk off by herself after hitting a shot and had little interplay with any of the four amateurs. The complaints annoyed McDonald's officials and reached the office of LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens, sources said.
Wie denied there was any tension between her and her pro-am partners at the McDonald's.
"I thought it was very insulting that somebody made a false accusation about me like that," she said. "I just hope [Bivens] gets better information."
Asked specifically what the accusation was, Wie said: "I don't really want to go into it. Maybe you'll hear about it later."
Bivens, through a spokesperson, confirmed she had a conversation with the Wies but declined to divulge its nature.
There was also another incident Tuesday in which head LPGA rules official Doug Brecht ordered Wie's mother and father, Bo and B.J., and her physiotherapist off the practice range, citing the LPGA rule that only coaches and caddies are allowed on the range with players. Even though Wie is not a member of the LPGA, she signs a form at each event she plays saying she will abide by tour rules, according to a tour official. That discussion also went less than smoothly, sources said.
Even though Wie, who turns 18 on Oct. 11, is under the tour's minimum age of 18, she would almost certainly be granted an exception to the rule if she petitioned for membership. But by not being a member, she has greater control over her playing schedule -- not having to play a minimum number of events and not having to ask for releases to play in conflicting events on other tours chief among them -- and can also play the tournament course the week prior to an event.
She arrived at the RiverTowne course on the Tuesday of the week before the Ginn Tribute and played every day but one that week. She arrived at Bulle Rock on Saturday. The confrontation Tuesday between the Wies and Bivens once again raised the possibility that Wie may never join the LPGA, finding it more lucrative to cherry pick events on other tours. As a nonmember she can have sponsor exemptions into six LPGA events plus play in the U.S. Women's Open and the Ricoh Women's British Open.
In a lengthy statement to reporters Wie said: "The reason why I withdrew from last week was because of my left wrist injury, and I should have quit earlier. I should have stopped playing when I tweaked it on the 10th hole. But as stubborn as I am, I just kept on playing because I wanted to play."
Left unanswered was how it came to be that Wie was too injured to finish her last two holes on Thursday but was able to be back out practicing on Saturday.
"I think it was a good judgment call," Wie said about quitting at the Ginn. "It was time to shut down my wrist."
She said doctors told her she cannot further injure the wrist by playing.
Wie first complained of problems with her right wrist in January after she missed the cut at the Sony Open on the PGA Tour. A month later, she said, she fell while jogging and injured her left wrist. The Ginn Tribute was her first tournament since the Sony and first LPGA event since the Samsung World Championship in October 2006. It was also her shortest outing as a pro, beating the 27 holes she played at the John Deere Classic last year before withdrawing because of heat exhaustion.
"I just feel I have to play tournaments to get back in a competitive mode," Wie said. "I feel like that's why I withdrew last week. That's why I saved my wrist, because I wanted to play this week and I wanted to play in the U.S. [Women's] Open."
The problem Wie has now that is perhaps greater than her wrist injury is that LPGA players are growing weary of her special treatment, and LPGA officials took a major step toward responding to those concerns by drawing a line in the grass concerning several issues Tuesday at Bulle Rock.
The most intriguing question of all will be addressed Thursday when the McDonald's LPGA Championship gets under way. How well is Wie going to play? Will she be the player who finished in the top five in her first six LPGA events of 2006, or the one who has not broken par in her last nine tour rounds? And if she plays well, will players again raise doubts about whether she was hurt when she withdrew from the Ginn?
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.
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