Out of her league?

O, BY THE WAY

Choosing men's event over LPGA rubs many the wrong way

On Michelle Wie

August 01, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

Following the example of 53-year-old Greg Norman, who led the Open Championship going into the final nine holes a few weeks ago, LPGA veteran Juli Inkster shot a 7-under-par 65 yesterday to take the first-round lead in the Women's British Open in Sunningdale, England.

When Inkster, 48, was 18 years old, she played in her first major, the Women's U.S. Open. She finished tied for 23rd. After plugging along as an outstanding college player at San Jose State, she won her first pro tournament in 1983, and a year later, she was the LPGA's Rookie of the Year.

Her career peaked in 1999 when she won five LPGA events, including two majors. For several years after her career year, she continued on a steady track with one, two and three victories each season, but they've been scarcer of late. The most recent was in 2006.

In all, though, her 31 victories, including the U.S. Women's Open twice, have given her a distinguished career on the women's tour.

In contrast, Michelle Wie, 18, is passing up the women's major in England for another crack at the men. She's playing in a PGA event, the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open, on an exemption. She has tried this seven times before and has failed to make the cut every time. Yesterday, her opening round started with a bogey.

Wie's decision to pass up a women's major and play with the men has attracted criticism from all corners.

Annika Sorenstam, who is retiring after being the LPGA's superstar for years, said: "I really don't know why Michelle is continuing to do this. ... I mean, we have a major this week, and if you can't qualify for a major, I don't see any reason why you should play with the men."

And from the men's side, there's resentment from the guys scrambling to get by on the men's tour who clearly see Wie as a carnival sideshow.

"When I saw it, I actually thought it was a joke, quite honestly," said Jay Williamson, who is trying to grind it out on the PGA Tour. "I know she is going to sell a lot more tickets than I will, but I would say it's surprising. I don't think it's a real popular decision out here."

The shame of all this is that when Wie last played in Springfield, Ill., two weeks ago in an LPGA event, she was tearing up the course.

Unfortunately, she forgot to sign her card promptly after the second round, and after a strong third round, she was told she was disqualified. Still, her strong performance was encouraging after struggling for most of the past two years.

Then came this decision of passing up - some might say snubbing - the women's event for another splashy appearance in the Reno tournament.

Meanwhile, there is the example of Inkster, a steady star who has assembled a proud career and is showing that she still has game.

In Inkster, however, there might actually be some consolation for the struggling and oft-criticized teenage golfer. Wie has time to get this straightened out.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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