Isn’t anyone looking out for Michelle Wie’s well-being?
The first time I saw Michelle Wie play, she was a 13-year-old with her dad on the bag and her mom just outside the ropes. She was already a 6-footer blasting her drives 300 yards, but like any young teenager she was self-conscious about her braces and ill at ease when it came to talking to adults.
Wie made the cut in her first major LPGA championship that week, then shot a third-round 66 that put her in Sunday's final group of the Kraft Nabisco alongside Annika Sorenstam. She didn't win, but there wasn't one person in the sun-baked gallery in Rancho Mirage, Calif., who wasn't certain they had just seen the future of golf.
Wie's a grown-up of 18 now and she still hits the ball 300 yards, though not always in the direction she aims. Mom and dad are also still nearby, helping manage a career that we thought by now would surely have included a bunch of wins on the LPGA Tour, and perhaps a major title or two.
The fact that it hasn't is puzzling at first glance, though there are enough cautionary tales from athletes before her that tell us making the leap from child prodigy to sports superstar is not nearly as easy as becoming a child prodigy in the first place.
It's not as though Wie hasn't had her chances. The LPGA changed its rules just to get her into more tournaments, the USGA bent its by allowing her to play in the 2004 U.S. Women's Open without qualifying, and the John Deere Classic stopped just short of sending her a tractor to get her to play against the men.
But she couldn't compete with men, and couldn't beat the women. Plagued by wrist injuries, her game deteriorated to the point last year where victory meant making the cut or shooting something close to even par.
She signed for an 81 in the first round of the Open last month, then forgot to sign her scorecard after playing her best golf in a long time at the State Farm Classic in Illinois.
And now she's setting herself up for failure once again.
The announcement that Wie would tee it up against the men next week at the PGA Tour stop in Reno, Nev., probably wasn't all that surprising. With no status on any tour, she's been forced to make a career accepting invitations from tournaments who think she still offers a little star power.
That's certainly the case at the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open, a tournament that draws a weak field and an even weaker gallery. Even though Wie's star has faded, tournament organizers probably figured they had nothing to lose by seeing if the tired woman-against-men freak show story line would entice a few more people to buy tickets.
No, it's Wie who is the real loser here. She's the one who is going to get beaten down once again playing against men she has no business playing against.
And you have to wonder what her parents or whoever is now in charge of her career were thinking by accepting the invitation.
Wie's psyche has to be more than a bit fragile to begin with, after missing the cut in the Open and then being disqualified over the weekend for failing to sign her scorecard. The last thing she needs to do is spend a few days looking for her ball in the trees, shoot a pair of 85s and then head out of town.
But Wie's sponsors have a lot invested in her, and time is running out this year on them getting any returns for the $10 million they gave her to celebrate her 16th birthday. She has only one sponsor's exemption left on the LPGA Tour, and if she doesn't make $80,000 or so in the CN Canadian Women's Open next month she faces having to go to qualifying school to try to get on the tour next year.
And she had better get on tour soon, because her novelty act has long since worn thin. She is no longer a precocious child playing against grown-ups.
I felt sorry for Wie the other day when the LPGA mishandled her failure to sign a scorecard and left her in tears after her best play in two years. It hardly seemed fair after everything she has been through the last couple of years.
But I feel even more sorry that her well-being seems to almost be an afterthought to those who continue to manipulate her career.
Tim Dahlberg is a columnist for the Associated Press.