Michelle Wie's next competitive stop will be against the men in a tournament in South Korea next month.
Another close call on a big stage for Wie
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. » Michelle Wie's mother, Bo, waited until her daughter had concluded her final interview before slipping under the ropes to give her a hug of congratulations.
Despite another close call with destiny, it was obvious she was proud of her 16-year-old for almost catching eventual Kraft Nabisco Championship winner Karrie Webb at the last, only to see the golf ball lip out, leaving her one shot short through four days and 72 holes of rigorous competition.
Washington Post columnist Leonard Shapiro said that Wie would have been on page 1A of the nation's most elite newspaper had she managed to win, and that's a spot usually reserved for Iraq, President Bush and the failing economy.
Whenever you start wondering if the Wie hype is spinning out of control, attend one of these major mainland tournaments and your opinion will change in a hurry. Throughout the four-day tournament, it was Wie's pairings that drew most of the attention, not Annika Sorenstam, Morgan Pressel or Paula Creamer.
Lorena Ochoa, who remained atop the leaderboard throughout the event only to lose to Karrie Webb in a playoff, said how exciting it was to be playing with Wie on the weekend.
"It's so much fun to play in front of all these people coming to watch her," Ochoa said. "She is obviously a great player."
And that's coming from a 24-year-old who has won three times on the LPGA Tour and is poised to be among the best in the world herself. On Sunday, the galleries were stacked six deep from the tee box to the green to see the final threesome of Ochoa, Wie and Natalie Gulbis; not one of these women has seen her 25th birthday.
Even though Webb, who was paired with Pressel, was tracking down these young women all afternoon, you could have watched her play from most spots on the course with relative ease. Not so Wie and Co.
After Wie's final putt lipped out, she spoke with a horde of print media behind the scorer's tent and was as light and breezy as if she were spending an afternoon with her mom at the mall.
Once done there, she moved on to the Golf Channel, where she continued to explain why she went for the win by chipping off the green rather than attempting an easier two-putt that would have put her in a playoff with Ochoa and Webb.
Once done there, it was off to the South Korean media, where she spoke in her parents' native tongue, handling the same questions over and over again. Then, as a nation watching on CBS waited for Ochoa and Webb to return to the 18th green, she spoke to them with the help of golf analyst Bill Kratzert, who told her, "You're great for women's golf."
How about golf in general?
That's where we're at as Wie waits a month before playing against the men in a tournament in South Korea, before rejoining the LPGA Tour in June for the LPGA Championship. From there, it's a summer of golf that will take her to points across America and Europe before she comes back to Hawaii for her senior year in high school.
Somewhere along the way at the LPGA and PGA tours, Wie may finally get a win and shake off those doubters like a bad case of fleas. Wie didn't lose on Sunday because she wilted under pressure. She thrives in those situations and has so much self-confidence, it sometimes gets in the way.
Wie spends most of her time on a golf course in Hawaii imagining what it's like to win on a world stage. She dreams up situations that rely on the flair for the dramatic and when reality comes along, she goes for it.
The only thing keeping Wie from winning is experience. Once she breaks on through to the other side, it might come as easily as it does for Sorenstam, Webb and even Tiger Woods. Because, folks, this 16-year-old is an attraction on a grand scale, win or lose. And even though many of the women out here may resent her popularity, you can't argue with the fans who come to see her, because there are too many.
Mom and dad, and the rest of the Wie team gathered behind the tent, knew this as Michelle departed again to sign autographs. They're waiting patiently for the day Wie embraces her full potential. And if that happens, Woods may have a true rival outside the ropes, and Wie will have many inside them.