In the rough

`Incredible talent' working to revive career

Michelle Wie

June 03, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

For the first time since the McDonald's LPGA Championship came to Bulle Rock, Michelle Wie will not be in the field.

The former amateur phenom, now 18, has struggled with a recurring wrist injury, fading confidence and disastrous results. Despite seven top-10 finishes in majors, the latest one about two years ago, there are some who believe that Wie will never fulfill the promise she once showed. Others think she's still young enough to be great.

Three years ago, controversy swirled around Wie when she became the first amateur invited to play in the LPGA Championship. But the teen from Hawaii finished second to Annika Sorenstam in the LPGA Tour's first visit to Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace to quiet her critics.

Though she made the cut a year ago, Wie finished last, 35 strokes behind Suzann Pettersen of Norway. It ended a tumultuous stretch on and off the course for the then-17-year-old.

"I think it's all very sad," former LPGA star turned television analyst Dottie Pepper said last week. "I think it's just sadly a child mismanaged. I certainly hope that, for the game's sake, things turn around, because she is an incredible talent. I think it's going to be hard to play at this poor level for very long for somebody who had been very close to the top."

At a recent tournament in Williamsburg, Va., Wie seemed to have been humbled by her struggles. Where she once talked about playing the PGA Tour full time, infuriating many female players, Wie said she is looking forward to someday joining the LPGA.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen, but that's definitely on the plan," said Wie, who was eligible to qualify for the tour when she turned 18 last fall but opted to go to college. "I want to be able to play more and get out here. It would be fun. It's a great tour and fabulous players.

"I would be honored to play against them."

Asked how frustrating the past two years have been, Wie said: "Obviously, it's been hard to deal with. Injuries are not great. I see it as a learning process, a little dip in the curve, a little bump in the road. ... It's all happened in the past, and I'm really excited and [want to] move forward."

Wie took her first positive step in a couple of years this past weekend, when she finished sixth in a Ladies European Tour event in Germany. It was her best result since finishing second in the Evian Masters in 2006, the same year she placed in the top five in three of the four majors.

Her spectacular rise from the 12-year-old prodigy who became the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA event, turned pro more than three years later and immediately signed multimillion contracts with Nike and Sony has been followed by an equally colossal collapse.

After struggling toward the end of the 2006 season, Wie sprained a wrist early last year. In eight women's events last year, she missed the cut three times, withdrew twice and was a collective 91 strokes behind the winner in the three events she completed.

Her appearance at Bulle Rock last year was surrounded by controversy and contempt. It came a week after she withdrew from Sorenstam's event in South Carolina, citing her wrist injury rather than risking shooting an embarrassing score that would have made her ineligible for any more LPGA events last year.

Wie then showed up in the Baltimore suburbs two days later to practice, drawing criticism from Sorenstam and several other players.

Asked last month whether she regretted getting so much attention early in her career, Wie said: "Not really, because I like playing golf and it just came with that, and there's really nothing I can do. I don't regret any of the choices that I made when I was younger."

Her attitude is not surprising, considering how much money Wie has amassed since turning pro. Starting with the estimated four-year, $20 million contract she signed with Nike in October 2005, Wie has made more than $80 million, including $19 million last year, according to Forbes magazine.

Wie said she has decided to re-enroll at Stanford for the fall after leaving this spring to work on her game. Considering that her contract with Nike runs out next year, it wouldn't be surprising if she tries to qualify for the tour this fall.

"She is a young woman who's trying to decide what she wants to do and get her life on track," LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens said last week. "It was a long time ago, but I was once a [teen], too, and that is a difficult time for girls and young women trying to track their course. She'd be welcomed on the LPGA when and if she earns her way on."

Diana D'Alessio, a nine-year veteran who played with Wie the first two rounds in Williamsburg, said the one-time phenom still has it in her to become a star.

"After she graduates [from college] and gets back to being a professional golfer, you're going to see great things from her," D'Alessio said. "I think she'll get back to where she was because of her talent. She's got a lot of drive. She just needs a little time to enjoy life."

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