Michelle Wie is just your everyday 15-year-old female golfer. Well, apart from the fact that she has played in two PGA Tour events and in the final pairing with Annika Sorenstam on Sunday in an LPGA major.
Wie played in the PGA Tour's Sony Open the last two years and her upcoming appearance in the John Deere Classic via sponsor's exemption looms in early July. Wie's two rounds of even par to miss the cut by just one stroke at the 2004 Sony Open prompted Tom Lehman, who played with Wie in a pro-am, to give her the nickname "Big Wiesy." Michelle is already six feet tall and has a swing that resembles Ernie Els, "The Big Easy." That is a lofty nickname for a teenager.
However, not all is well in Wie's world. She's undergone quite a bit of scrutiny and endured a bit of controversy lately. Is the world taking Wie for granted, or is Wie taking advantage of the world?
Earlier this year at the Sony Open, Wie had a tougher time. She shot a 75 in the first round and followed that up with a 74 in the second round to miss the cut by seven strokes. As I mentioned earlier, she has also made a huge impact on the LPGA Tour. In the 2003 Kraft Nabisco Championship, at the age of 13, she put herself in contention to win an LPGA major and played in the last group on Sunday with the greatest female golfer in the world, Annika Sorenstam. Wie didn't win that tournament, but she has definitely made an impact in the golf world almost comparable to that of Tiger Woods.
Despite all the positive energy Michelle Wie has generated, there are those who continue to feel as though she does not deserve to play in PGA Tour events without qualifying. The John Deere Classic will mark the third time Wie gets to play with the big boys and at least one PGA Tour winner was very outspoken about Wie's sponsor's exemption. Mark Hensby, 2004 John Deere Classic winner, didn't put the blame on Wie or the John Deere Classic officials, instead choosing to blame her parents. Here is a little taste of what Hensby had to say.
I don't think a 15-year-old girl who's done nothing at all should get a sponsor's invitation to a PGA Tour event. Michelle should be playing against girls her own age. She's obviously a very good player but she's only ever won one junior tournament. If she qualified I wouldn't have a problem, but to take a sponsor's invitation, I don't think that's right.
To some golf fans, this sounds pretty harsh. But to others, it echoes the opinions that have been running through their own heads since "Big Wiesy" drove into the headlines.
Michelle Wie is a media magnet. When she plays with the guys in a PGA Tour event, coverage goes through the roof. Spectator turnout increases, television viewership increases, and charitable donations increase as well. Wie has drawn larger galleries than any other player in her two Sony Open appearances (which are, admittedly, held in her home state of Hawaii). The Sony Open usually has a strong field, but when you add a teenage phenom to the mix, it gets even better! And it should be the same when "Big Wiesy" tees it up in July with the men.
The John Deere Classic is held the week before the British Open. As golf fans know, a large number of players fly across the pond a week or two before the British Open to get used to the courses and conditions. The field for the John Deere Classic is usually highly affected by this, and to say that the John Deere classic suffers from poor media attention is like saying a lipped out one-footer is embarrassing. Wie's appearance will work wonders to keep golf in the forefront of the minds of fans who would normally expect a lull before a major championship.
There's a natural downside to Wie playing in the John Deere Classic (and other PGA Tour events). Michelle Wie's "free pass" - free of qualifying via sponsor's exemptions - does not sit well with players who have to earn their way into tournaments. The players on the PGA Tour work their tails off every year to make it into the top 125 on the PGA money list to be exempt the following year. If they fail to do this, they get to go to Tour Qualifying School to try and earn their way into events. Wie hasn't qualified for anything to this point in regards to the PGA Tour. It could definitely set a bad example for the guys who failed to qualify for events and get left out for a player that got in the field because of an invitation.
Let's not forget that Michelle Wie has yet to make a cut in her two Sony Open appearances. She sniffed it in 2004 and never got close in 2005. She's won one national tournament (a few years ago) and hasn't won anything since. Some people believe Wie hasn't really accomplished anything by playing in these events. Wie's continued failure to make the cut will begin to turn against her unless she can put it to sleep by making a cut pretty soon. The more she plays and misses the cut, the worse it will get for her. The media scrutiny she's getting now? Double. Triple. Bad.
The Final Say
The book on Michelle Wie is far from closed. She has a beautiful swing and the sky may well be the limit for this young phenom. She could very possibly take women's golf to new heights and maybe even chase down some of Annika Sorenstam's records or, dare I say it, Kathy Whitworth's. She definitely has that kind of talent, if not more.
That being said, I agree with Mark Hensby on this subject. I am not just talking about women playing men's events, as I feel the same way about Annika playing in PGA Tour events as well as former baseball slugger Mark McGwire. Whether the players are male or female, they should have to go through some type of qualifying to get into a PGA Tour-sanctioned event. What's fair for others should be fair for Michelle, Annika, and Mark. Michelle Wie has the talent to play with some of the men, but I want to see her go through some qualifying to prove she belongs. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in working to achieve, not being given charity.
Agree? Disagree? That's the point of Thrash Talk. I hope to continue to get great feedback as I have the past month. As always, if you have anything to add to this article, feel free to comment below or contact me via email. Have a great week of golf!
Photo Credits: © Unknown.