Wie's future uncertain despite strong Q showing


POSTED: Wednesday, December 10, 2008

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. » Michelle Wie has a clean slate for a future that remains muddled.

Considering all she has gone through, there's simply no telling what will happen next.

When she won the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at 13, it would have been hard to imagine her going six years without another trophy to call her own. And when she had a share of the lead on the back nine of three majors her first year as a pro, who could have guessed she would be fighting for her future at Q-school just two years later?

Then again, with an average score last year of 76.7—no rounds in the 60s, only two better than par—what would have been the odds that she could even survive Q-school to earn LPGA Tour membership?

“;I have a clean slate,”; she said. “;I took the long way to get here, but I feel really good about it.”;

But as much as Wie wants to move forward, it will be difficult for her to escape expectations created by her past.

There remains a fascination about the 19-year-old from Hawaii that even the LPGA Tour brass finally recognized. Tour officials erected a tiny grandstand behind the 18th green for the final stage of Q-school, and a crowd close to 500 that surrounded the green Sunday when Wie finished was about 475 more than who usually watches this event.

Swing coach David Leadbetter was asked if the LPGA Tour needed Wie as much as she needed the tour, and he found his answer walking up the final hole with a couple of hundred fans who had gone the distance.

“;Look around,”; he said.

The question is whether that fascination continues now that Wie looks more like everyone else.

Q-school winner Stacy Lewis, the former NCAA champion from Arkansas who went 5-0 in the Curtis Cup this summer in her last amateur event, was the latest who couldn't figure out from a player's perspective why Wie received so much attention.

Such thinking used to be naive.

No other teenage girl came within three matches of qualifying for the Masters and nine holes of qualifying for the men's U.S. Open. No other female showed enough potential to bring in $15 million in endorsements during her junior year in high school.

But now it's a fair question.

For one thing, Wie no longer has youth on her side.

One of the more memorable lines that helped create the mystique of Wie came from Tim Herron, who played with her in a junior pro-am at the Sony Open. Coming off the 18th green, Herron acted indignant when a magazine reporter asked him about Wie.

“;Nothing about me?”; Herron said. “;You don't want to know about my eagle? No 'Happy New Year, good to see you, how are you playing?' All you want to know is how far some 12-year-old girl is blowing it by me?”;

She famously qualified for an LPGA event in seventh grade, played in the final group of an LPGA major at 13. More impressive than her score at the Sony Open—a 68, the lowest by any female competing against men—was her age. She was 14.

But even if Wie were to win a major this year, that would only make her the third-youngest LPGA major champion behind Morgan Pressel (18 at the Kraft Nabisco) and Yani Tseng (19 at the LPGA Championship).

Also gone is the power that once caused PGA Tour players to stop what they were doing on the range to watch her.

Wie remains a big hitter, but Lewis kept up with her on occasion, and others (Sophie Gustafson, Brittany Lincicome) have shown to be just as long if not longer. Wie's strength remains her wedges around the green, and her weakness remains putting.

“;She's a good player,”; Lewis said. “;But it's not like she's a step above everybody else.”;

Another thing Wie is lacking—and this is probably a good thing—is controversy.

One of the most awkward moments for any Curtis Cup captain came in 2004. Martha Kirouac had to tell her U.S. team that Wie had received a special exemption to the U.S. Women's Open, and the rest of the team—including Paula Creamer, Brittany Lang—had to qualify.

The LPGA Championship has been for professionals only since 1955 until the criteria were changed 50 years later to invite a leading amateur. Care to guess who received that one amateur spot?

What brought her the most satisfaction about her LPGA card is that she earned it.

It was a big step for her go to Q-school just like so many great players before her—Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, all in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Wie still hasn't won a tournament since turning pro in 2005.

When she shot 68 on the PGA Tour while in the ninth grade, one could only imagine how good she would be upon finishing high school. Now in her second year going to Stanford, there is not as much room to grow.

While recovering from wrist injuries last season that nearly derailed her career, she often wished she could go back to where she was.

“;It's impossible,”; she said. “;You will never be who you were when you were 14 or 15. That's sad if you are. I'm a completely different person now. I'm not who I was when I was 14. I'm not who I was when I was 15, 16, or 17 or 18. I'm a whole new person.”;

She might be better than ever.

Or it could be that her best golf already is behind her.