Michelle Wie had a large following at the John Deere Classic on Thursday and Friday, one of the reasons she is a virtual lock to receive an invitation to the tournament next year.
Bellyachers will have to stomach Wie a bit longer
Some people don't like her playing PGA events, but Wie has the support of those who matter
SILVIS, Ill. » Ronald Fultz of nearby Rock Island was among the hordes of people who braved the heat and the crowds to get a glimpse of Michelle Wie on Friday at the John Deere Classic.
"I was at the first tee an hour and a half early," said Fultz, who had about a 10-mile drive to the course. "I wanted to make sure I was there to see her."
As it turned out, those who arrived late missed the sweet swing of the golf prodigy from Hawaii. Wie withdrew from the tournament after nine holes of her second round because of heat exhaustion and a stomach ailment.
Friday was going to be her last day here, anyway, as Wie was 8 over par at the time she pulled out, and she would've had to make up more than one stroke per hole over the remaining nine to survive the cut.
There are those who say the events of Thursday and Friday are proof the 16-year-old Punahou School student should give up playing in men's events, at least for now.
Don't count JDC tournament director Clair Peterson among them.
He hasn't officially invited Wie to next year's tournament yet, but it's a virtual lock. And Michelle's father, B.J., said Friday that it is very likely a third invitation will be accepted.
"We'd love to (return)," he said. "She plays this course well."
That's debatable after Wie shot 6-over 77 on Thursday, but she also fired a 3-under 68 in her pro-am round Wednesday, and was 1 under par over two rounds last year, when she missed the cut by two strokes.
The key for anyone to score well at the densely wooded TPC at Deere Run course is to hit the ball straight. Wie was all over the lot on Thursday, and four penalty strokes will wipe out anyone.
The funny thing is Wie's putting and chipping were excellent on Thursday, and it was her short game that was roundly criticized in the earlier stops of her summer 2006 tour. Her drives at the U.S. Women's Open two weeks ago were arrow-straight.
Next up for Michelle Wie is the Evian Masters in France, then the Women's British Open.
Many of those who criticize Wie don't understand the nature of the game.
"Golf is a very unpredictable sport," Peterson said. "Even the greatest talents have days when they shoot rounds they're not happy with.
"She just keeps getting better. One round of golf does not define a golfer. Just ask Carlos Franco."
If Wie needs to stop playing men's PGA events, then perhaps Franco should, too. Like Wie, he shot a 77 on Thursday.
On the other side of the argument -- and just as ridiculous -- is the notion that once Wie finally does win a tournament, she will become unbeatable.
Even when she hits her peak, Wie will have her good days and her bad days, like any other golfer.
There will likely be many more good than bad, and she may at some point be able to build a long streak of tournaments where she makes the cut, a la Tiger Woods.
While she has the potential to become a great player, perhaps the greatest woman player in the game's history, she will be tested every week by the other young talents on the LPGA Tour, as well as reigning queen of the links Annika Sorenstam.
It is also exciting to ponder -- although impossible to even guess -- how she might someday compete among the men.
Wie was on her way to Europe yesterday (in fine health, we were told), where she will have a week off before playing in the Evian Masters in France and then the Women's British Open.
Some will say she's back where she belongs, playing in LPGA events.
For those who say it's time to stop playing with the men, Wie will do what she always does with such criticism: simply ignore it.
And as long as enough people like Ronald Fultz are willing to line up to watch her challenge the lines of gender and age, and enough people like Clair Peterson recognize that and let her in the tournaments, the naysayers are just going to have to live with it.
Michelle Wie has plenty of time to get rid of that stomachache before her next PGA Tour stop, the 84 Lumber Classic, in September.
And the heat of critical opinion is the kind she can handle.