Wie transcends the women's game

10/10/2005 - Golf Michelle Wie

I really don't consider myself a sexist, though several fluffettes I know do. I was all for Annika Sorenstam at Colonial trying to prove some demented point against Rod Curl and Keith Clearwater. But I seldom ever even glance at the LPGA because, well, it's the LPGA. I'd rather watch a haircut. And yet I can't take my eyes off Michelle Wie.

As you know, she is about six or seven feet tall, drives the ball some 400 or 500 yards and turns 16 on Oct. 11. Like a lot of pretty girls, Michelle is twice as pretty when she smiles. If she isn't smiling, she has practically no mouth at all. She looks like Edith Piaf holding the last note to "If Love Were All." Many people in golf think of Wie just that way, as a child chanteuse singing an inappropriately adult song in some melancholy speakeasy. But I don't see her as a sad figure. She makes me uncommonly happy.

Normally I mourn for lost childhoods. When 17-year-old Ty Tryon got to the PGA Tour by the hardest road, weathering every stage of Q School and shooting 66 at the end, I wanted to tackle him. Ty's father named his son for a character in "Caddyshack." All of the prodigies have fathers. ("Stage mother" is one of the world's great injustices.) Wie has a father, too.

I'm sorry Michelle spent her childhood hiring and firing caddies, but that ship started to sail when she shot 64 at the age of 10. That was the same year she became the youngest qualifier at the USGA Women's Amateur Public Links Championship. By the time Wie won the Hawaii State Women's Stroke Play Championship at 11, the S.S. No Limitations had cleared Pearl Harbor. At 12, she became the youngest girl ever to Monday-qualify for an LPGA event. By 13, she was playing in the final group at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a major. At 14, braving her first PGA Tour event, Michelle shot 72-68 in the Sony Open and missed the weekend by a stroke. At 15, she brought galleries to the men's U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, scoring three match-play victories before bowing out in the quarterfinals to the eventual champion, what's-his-name.

Dropping in on the LPGA this year, Wie finished T-14, second (to Annika at the LPGA Championship), T-23 and third (at the Women's British Open) in the four majors. She graciously left $663,363 on the table at seven events, though not all the pros seemed to appreciate it. The longing looks Michelle keeps shooting the PGA Tour insult Nancy Lopez and others.

Fellow amateur Morgan Pressel, an old hag of 17, expressed doubt that Wie would ever join the LPGA Tour. "Never," she said. "OK, maybe not never, but not as long as she wants to do her 'woo-woo' thing against the men."

Lopez said, "I'm kind of old-fashioned. I think women should play with women and men should play with men. If she wants to win -- if her goal on the PGA Tour is to win -- I don't think it will ever happen."

I'm kind of old-fashioned, too. I used to whistle along with Steve Goodman when the folk singer plucked his guitar and sang, "There are men who love women who love men, women who love women every now and then ... " But I disagree with Lopez. I don't see any reason Wie can't win on the PGA Tour. Why shouldn't she aspire to be the best among the best?

Tiger Woods thinks Michelle should learn how to win first. That's what he did. Woods never jumped any queues. When he was the premier junior golfer, he didn't do a thing against the good amateurs -- until he joined their company and instantly became their king. He never squeezed out a drop in the pro tournaments until he was a pro. He waited until his first professional major to win The Masters by 12 strokes.

But everyone has to go his or her own way. You remember the "I am Tiger Woods" commercial. That was his first ad, still the best. "I am Tiger Woods." "I am Tiger Woods." "I am Tiger Woods." If you slow down the tape, and listen very carefully, you might make out a small feminine voice in the background, saying, "I am Michelle Wie."

Tom Callahan is a contributing writer for Golf Digest magazine.