Expectations grow for Wie


POSTED: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

From a hotel suite in Honolulu overlooking the golf course where Michelle Wie first showed her awesome potential, she looked at newspaper photos from various stages of her youth and realized those days were behind her.

She was 15 and had just turned pro.

Within a year, her income approached $20 million, more than any other female golfer.

“;I know I have to win. That's my priority now,”; Wie said that day. “;They all expect me to do better and work harder.”;

That was four years ago, spanning 42 starts on the LPGA Tour. Those expectations took a long time to fulfill.

Her face was flush with celebration and relief Sunday when Wie blasted out of a bunker to tap-in range for a two-shot victory in Mexico. She thrust her arms in the air, covered her mouth and before long, she finally tasted that LPGA tradition for first-time winners by getting showered with beer.

It was clear an enormous burden had been lifted.

Wie created those expectations by shooting 68 on the PGA Tour at age 14, by having at least a share of the lead on the back nine of three major championships when she was 16, by coming within nine holes of qualifying for the U.S. Open and by developing shots that few other women were capable of hitting.

“;For sure, it's definitely off my back,”; said Wie, now 20 and in her third year at Stanford. “;I think that hopefully, life will be a lot better. But I still have a lot of work to do. I still have a lot to improve. It just feels so great right now.”;

But as one burden is lifted, another is soon to arrive.

The timing could not have been better for the LPGA Tour, which is starved for attention and struggling to climb out of an economic morass that likely will lead to the fewest tournaments it has had in years.

The tour finally got rid of its commissioner, Carolyn Bivens, and replaced her with Michael Whan, who is to be introduced in Houston tomorrow and takes over at the start of 2010.

The LPGA needs star power, and no other player can move the needle like Wie.

She was attracting the largest crowds even when Annika Sorenstam was still playing and winning majors.

Wie won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, named after the No. 1 player in women's golf. Yet not even Ochoa could carry the tour. When she was going for a record-tying fifth straight victory last year in Oklahoma, it received only local coverage. The Golf Channel did not send a crew to document her winning streak.

Wie endured more criticism from the media than any other female golfer in 2007 while trying to play through an injury. The worst of it came after she withdrew from Sorenstam's tournament while on the verge of shooting 88 — which would have banned her from playing for a year — only to show up two days later at Bulle Rock to prepare for a major.

Most impressive about Wie was that through it all, she never lashed out at any of her critics. She earned respect by going through LPGA Q-school last year and by leading the United States to victory in the Solheim Cup.

And now — finally — she's a winner.

Among her immediate plans was “;definitely bask in the glory.”;

The LPGA Tour surely will try to capitalize on this moment, as it should, although the tour should be mindful of the four years that preceded Wie's victory, and the four years before that when she was girl among men.

Keep the expectations reasonable.