Golf phenom Michelle Wie is scheduled to play events on five tours in 2006.
Wie creating a league of her own
The Punahou School junior has captured the hearts of people in three parts of the world
IN A SPAN of 12 hours, Michelle Wie made headlines in three parts of the world stretching across 12 time zones.
She accepted an invitation to play the Omega Masters in Switzerland, which will make her the first woman to compete in a continental European PGA Tour event. A few hours later, the 16-year-old received a special exemption to the U.S. Women's Open in Newport, R.I., which is sure to infuriate Morgan Pressel and others who believe she should have had to qualify.
And to complete this manic Monday, Wie made history as the first woman to advance to the final stage of U.S. Open qualifying.
Ever the drama queen, Wie was headed toward a double bogey on the 17th hole at Turtle Bay in Honolulu when she hooked her tee shot so far left into the trees that she hit a provisional. Someone found her ball, she managed to chip out sideways, then fired a 6-iron from 170 yards into 5 feet to escape with par. She wound up with an even-par 72 and was a medalist.
How to celebrate such an eventful Monday?
By cracking open the books, not a bottle of bubbly.
"She missed school today," said her father, B.J. Wie. "She started doing a lot of homework right after we came back from qualifying."
THE FATHER TURNED pages in two books of his own. One was a calendar, the other was a road map.
The next stop on Wie's wild and wonderful ride is June 5 at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., site of the 36-hole sectional qualifier where she will compete against dozens of PGA Tour players for a spot in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Then she heads south to Bulle Rock outside Baltimore for the LPGA Championship, which starts June 8.
"I think we're going to leave home on the 28th of May and fly to Baltimore and practice there for three days," her father said. "Then Thursday morning, fly to New Jersey and practice Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, nine holes each day to save her energy. It sounds like a lot, but she can handle it. She amazes me."
Wie has been doing that for some time.
For those who say she needs to win, Wie has redefined winning without hoisting a trophy.
She didn't win the Sony Open, but her 68 in the second round at age 14 was the lowest score ever shot by a female on a men's tour. She didn't win the U.S. Amateur Public Links -- or a trip to the Masters that came with it -- but she reached the quarterfinals last summer and kept everyone watching and wondering.
ALONG THE WAY, these "victories" have turned her into the biggest attraction in women's golf, and probably the third-biggest draw in all of golf behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Name another player capable of spiking ticket sales or TV ratings.
Against women, winning now seems to be a matter of when, not if.
In her only two LPGA Tour events this year, she missed a playoff by one shot both times, one of those tournaments a major. That's what led to her free pass to the U.S. Women's Open. Had she been an LPGA Tour member -- the tour has a minimum age limit of 18 -- Wie would be No. 16 on the money list after two tournaments. The top 35 are exempt to the Women's Open.
Keep in mind that her two LPGA events were five weeks apart. It will be easier to gauge Wie's progress this summer when she plays eight times in 15 weeks -- make that nine tournaments if she somehow qualifies for Winged Foot.
The U.S. Open, however, remains a dream.
The other development Monday is more of a reality.
Get used to Wie accepting exemptions to tournaments in Europe and elsewhere. By the time 2006 is over, she will have competed on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, European PGA Tour, Asian Tour and the Japan PGA Tour. About the only other golfer who keeps that kind of itinerary is Ernie Els.
"Me and my dad were kind of joking that we're basically playing on all tours this year," she said. "I think it's awesome. It's always what I wanted to do."
B.J. WIE FIRST SHARED this vision at the start of the 2005 season. The plan was for her to become a global icon in golf, which she is now. He could see his daughter playing a men's or women's event in Europe, some in Asia. Most of her events would be on the LPGA Tour, but that doesn't mean she has to join. Wie gets a maximum of eight exemptions on the LPGA; given her global travels, that's all she needs.
Take a close look at 2006.
Her 14 tournaments include eight on the LPGA Tour, three on the PGA Tour, one each in Japan, Europe and South Korea. She made the cut for the first time against the men at the SK Telecom Open two weeks ago in South Korea.
"I think we are following that blueprint," B.J. Wie said. "She likes it. The trip to Korea was fantastic. It was so much fun. As long as she has good health and good motivation, she wants to travel around the world like a global player, like Ernie Els."
Wie will be under far greater scrutiny, but she has shown an amazing capacity to handle it.
Some will complain Wie is taking a spot away from someone trying to make a living, and that is sure to come up at the 84 Lumber Classic in September as the PGA Tour season enters its final two months and players are trying to keep their cards. But if a guy can't earn one of the 140 or so spots in a tournament, he has no one to blame but himself. As much as the PGA Tour is charging title sponsors these days, the sponsors have a right to invite someone who will help them sell tickets.
Winning the local qualifier for the U.S. Open will keep Wie in the news for the next three weeks. No one expects her to make it. But no one can be sure what will happen.
These small victories only make her more popular in any time zone.