Wie gives the needle a reason to move


POSTED: Monday, November 16, 2009

They like to say in the broadcast business that Michelle Wie is one of only two golfers who move the needle. The other being you know who.

The same day Tiger won Down Under, Wie's win at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational is hopefully a portent of things to come for a tour struggling to find anyone willing to put up a purse. What the LPGA Tour needed most happened yesterday in Guadalajara, Mexico, on center stage where only 36 of the very best were invited by Ochoa to experience her country's rub of the green.

If you didn't notice the symbolic torch passing, as Ochoa handed her tournament trophy to Wie after yesterday's stunning two-shot victory over fellow American Paula Creamer, then you weren't paying attention.

With a pending marriage hanging over her bag like a relentless Yurie, Ochoa's No. 1 ranking will be hotly pursued by several golfers in 2010. But it's Wie's popularity across the spectrum that the women's tour is counting on as much as anything.

The Punahou School graduate emerged from the Solheim Cup with a newfound respect from the ladies on tour. Team captain Beth Daniel and swing coach Dave Stockton are credited with reshaping Wie's recent tour path. Daniel separated Wie from her parents during the Solheim Cup, allowing the teen to come out and play with her peers.

She delighted those outside the ropes and dazzled the girls with her play inside them with a golf game not too many are familiar with, as Bobby Jones once said of Jack Nicklaus. Fitting tight inside her Solheim Cup shoes as Dorothy did her ruby slippers, Wie was welcomed to the winner's circle yesterday by none other than Morgan Pressel, who sprayed a bit of the bubbly on Wie after she finished her interview on the Golf Channel.

THERE WERE plenty of hugs to go around, including from backstage handler Nickole E. Raymond of IMG. For the past 10 months, she has guided Wie quietly and confidently through the maelstrom that comes with being a child prodigy. It was a stiff headwind for the newest member of the Wie team.

Before passing her Q-school exam to earn her cleats last December, Wie spent a decade like “;The Great Gatsby's”; Daisy Buchanan, knocking it around on both tours, much to the chagrin of most. There was an undertone of resentment, barely concealed. Injuries and ill-advised decisions followed her around like Pig Pen's cloud.

Fortunately for all involved, she swept those memories away by blasting out of a bunker at the 18th for a kick-in birdie to seal her first win since she was 13. Thank you, Mr. Stockton.

“;I feel so fortunate and oh my God I can't even talk. I don't even know,”; Wie told the world moments after she won. “;I'm so bewildered by everything. I'm so fortunate. I'm so happy. We (she and playing partner Cristie Kerr) were going at it head to head. I was making putts. She was making putts. It was fun out there today. I can't believe this.”;

Later, Wie addressed her doubters and critics by thanking those who stuck by her most.

“;Thankfully, Nike and Omega, my parents, my fans, they never gave up on me,”; Wie said. “;I never gave up on myself as well. Obviously, there were a lot of ups and downs. It was a great day out there today. It was absolutely fabulous.”;

Wie returns to the links in Houston this week, now a full-fledged member of an elite club that so many watched and waited patiently for her to join. Yesterday, Wie moved the needle. And the LPGA Tour shook with relief.

Sports editor Paul Arnett covers golf for the Star-Bulletin.