- Ron Sirak, Golf
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Common sense is exactly that. It's the sense that comes from the activities we all have in common. Real knowledge comes from such experience. Everything else is merely information. And the experiences Michelle Wie has had on the golf course for nearly a year now have been so humiliating, and the reaction to her withdrawal at the Ginn Tribute and its aftermath so overwhelmingly negative, that the Wie camp has realized the sensible thing to do is to stop playing against the men -- at least for now.
Wie, who returns to competition next week at the U.S. Women's Open at the Pine Needles Resort in North Carolina, announced Tuesday that she has decided not to play in the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour next month. She already had been extended and had accepted a sponsor's invitation to the Deere for the third consecutive year. In 2005, she missed making the cut by 2 strokes. Last year, she withdrew after 27 holes because of heat exhaustion while well out of contention for playing the weekend. It's the wisest decision to come out of the Wie camp in a long time.
Michelle says her injured left wrist is still not back to full strength and says it would be unwise to take on the best players in the world while not at 100 percent. That might not be a bad thought for her to hold on to for a little while even after her strength returns. She is so young and has so much talent it seems to be so unwise to continue to let her pile up bad memories -- bad experiences -- that clearly are eroding her confidence.
Wie had a perfect storm going on during those two dreadful weeks on the LPGA Tour. She was hit with the triple whammy: She was injured; her swing was so out of whack it was hard to imagine Tom Lehman once called her the Big Wiesy for her Ernie Els-like tempo; and her emotional gas tank was clearly on empty. Her withdrawal with two holes to play in the first round at the Ginn -- citing injury -- angered players who felt she pulled out to avoid disqualification for the year in LPGA Tour events for failing to break 88 in a tournament round.
That anger was roiling even before the Ginn tournament started because Wie had been at the RiverTowne Country Club course for a week preparing, something LPGA members are barred by rule from doing but she is not because she has not joined the tour. The angst was compounded when the players found out two days after Wie withdrew that she was beating balls at Bulle Rock, site of the McDonald's, while everyone else was grinding it out in the Ginn. When Wie then said she felt she had nothing to apologize for, her political capital was pretty well spent. The players, public and media who had once regarded her as a 14-year-old darling turned on a dime and viewed her as an ungrateful, underperforming kid with $20 million in endorsement deals.
Pulling out of the Deere was the best thing the Wies could do, public-relations-wise. The decision not only spares Michelle the potential embarrassment of posting a large number on the 7,200-yard TPC Deere Run course -- she shot an 83 in the third round of the McDonald's on a course 700 yards shorter -- but also lets the tournament sponsors and the PGA Tour out of the politically difficult situation of having to explain why Wie continues to get invitations when she has averaged 78.6 in her past five men's events.
A defense of giving Wie a free pass into the Deere becomes especially difficult for the PGA Tour when it is hyping the first year of the FedEx Cup, and its points race, then denies a spot in a tour event to a potential qualifier for the playoffs in favor of a 17-year-old girl who is out of her league against the best players in the world. It might be too conspiratorial to think the tour and Deere were working behind the scenes to get Wie to pull out -- no doubt offering an invitation somewhere down the road -- but there is no question the tour and the tractor makers are breathing a sigh of relief.
The Wie saga began its downward spiral midway through the final round of the 2006 Evian Masters in France. Michelle stepped onto the 12th tee with a 2-stroke lead and appeared on the way to her first LPGA victory -- and only win since the 2003 Women's Public Links. But Karrie Webb, playing with Wie, laid three birdies on the kid in six holes to take the title, giving a common sense lesson on what it takes to close out a tournament. Michelle has not broken par in any competitive event since then -- a total of eight events and 21 rounds.
Wie enters Stanford University in September, and it seems as though attending such a demanding college gives the Wie family a chance to put its strategy of playing against the men on the back burner until after college, when Michelle will be just 21 years old. Stanford provides a graceful exit strategy that alters the game plan without admitting the plan didn't work -- and worse, apparently was detrimental to the development of Wie's game.
Unfortunately, this exchange in an interview with Wie after the McDonald's tournament -- at which she finished 35 strokes behind winner Suzann Pettersen and 10 strokes out of next-to-last place -- was not encouraging.
Q. How much do you look forward to college?
Michelle Wie: "A lot actually. I think it's going to be so much fun. High school is more like a mandatory thing. You have to go to high school. I have to wake up at 7:30. But college, you know, you can make your own schedule. You can learn whatever you want. You know I'm just really excited. I'm going to be dorming next year, so I just turned in my housing application on Friday. So I'm just really excited."
Q. Will you scale back your playing once you start school?
Michelle Wie: "No. I think that high school was a full-time thing for me and I think college, like I said high school is more of a mandatory education system where I had to be there. I was only allowed to miss two weeks a semester. College is, I'm paying my money to go there, and I think that I'm just going to study a lot in my offseason and play a lot of golf. I think hopefully it will be a good balance. We'll see when I get there. But I'm definitely not taking more time off. I'm going to play more."
Makes you wonder exactly how the admissions folks at Stanford felt when they learned it was going to be easier to compete while attending their prestigious institution than it was while Wie was in high school. If memory serves, college is harder than high school -- if you want to stay in college. But that is one of those things you only learn by experience. It is common sense, something that has been in short supply in the Wie camp recently. The decision to pull out of the John Deere Classic is the first glimmer of hope that some better decisions will be made down the road.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.
Michelle Wie is still teeing it up in the U.S. Women's Open next week, but she will pass on playing against the men next month in Illinois.