Why Is There All This Fuss Over Michelle Wie? Follow The Drama

June 12, 2009|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

I went to see Michelle Wie play at Bulle Rock on Thursday because I'm a sucker for drama queens, and there's enough drama in this young woman's life for any reality series you come up with.

Just shy of 20 years old, she remains endlessly fascinating to golf fans. She's the child prodigy who has so far failed to deliver on her enormous potential, the sweet-swinging long-hitter - averaging 272 yards on her drives, sixth on the LPGA Tour - who can sometimes seem lost and clueless at this game.

She teed off in the opening round at the McDonald's LPGA Championship at a little before 9:30 on a gray, misty morning, and hundreds of fans followed her down the fairway, wondering whether this would be the weekend she finally collects her first tour win.

Paired with the effervescent Christina Kim and China's Shanshan Feng, Wie shot a solid 2-under-par 70 for the day, five strokes behind leader Nicole Castrale.

But it's funny with Wie - sometimes you wonder whether others want to see her win more than she does.

At a pre-tournament news conference this week, for instance, she seemed to deliver the same rote answers she always delivers when the subject is raised.

"The first win is always a tricky one," she said. "It will happen when it's happening. All I can do is try my hardest out there, which I enjoy. But I'm trying my hardest, and I think that's all that matters for me."

A moment or two later, she was asked why people are so interested in her, no matter how her game is going.

"I have no idea," she said, giggling. "I mean, I don't know."

Really? No idea?

Well, just off the top of my head, I can think of a few reasons people find her so intriguing.

It goes back to all the drama - and all the promise she has always showed.

Here's a tall, striking woman who started playing golf at age 4 and became the youngest to play in the Women's U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at 10.

At age 12, she became the youngest to play in an LPGA event. And at 14, she had the audacity to play with men, becoming the youngest to play in a PGA Tour event at the 2004 Sony Open.

All those milestones created all sorts of buzz, of course. The great Arnold Palmer went so far as to liken her to Tiger Woods.

"She's probably going to influence the golfing scene as much as Tiger or more," he said back when Wie was barely a teen. "She's going to attract people that even Tiger didn't attract - young people, both boys and girls, and families."

So the planets were aligned for Michelle Wie. And we in the media hyped her shamelessly and relentlessly as golf's next superstar and the new savior of the LPGA Tour, on which she would wage fierce battles with Annika Sorenstam and create a sizzling rivalry to further juice the game.

Yep, it was a nice story arc.

Then it all seemed to unravel with startling speed.

You want drama?

Suddenly Wie was being accused of all sorts of missteps: fabricating injuries, withdrawing from tournaments citing dubious health problems, going through caddies the way other people go through socks.

(The count of fired Wie caddies is inexact. But it's rumored to be as high as 10 since her father stopped carrying her bag a few years ago.)

Critics also said she was too focused on outside interests, which tends to happen when big sponsors like Nike and Sony throw millions of dollars at a young athlete.

So now Wie is trying to get her career back on track in this, her true rookie year on the LPGA Tour. She's off to a decent start with three top-10 finishes in eight tournaments. And she's 16th on the money list with $308,226.

When she came off the course Thursday, the crowd gave her a loud ovation and she seemed energized by her promising round, especially her putting.

In a quick interview with the Golf Channel, she was asked about her expectations for this year.

"I've been having so much fun playing almost every week and traveling to different places," she said. "The main goal for me is to have a lot of fun, play my hardest, try my hardest, and win for sure."

A lot of people are waiting for that win.

Bulle Rock wouldn't be a bad place to get it, either.

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