Wie following in Tiger's footsteps?
The drawback to being a child star, as anyone who's watched ``Hollywood Squares'' can attest, is that most have nowhere to go but down.
That's not likely to happen to Michelle Wie, a 14-year-old blessed with poise, a 100-watt smile and a picture-perfect golf swing. Then again, the last thing a young girl with designs on playing the men's tour one day and already burdened by comparisons to Tiger Woods needs is a sense of entitlement.
Wie went through more sponsor exemptions in the past year -- a handful on the LPGA Tour, two more on men's minor league tours -- than Woods did during his entire amateur career. And if her plans for early next year are any indication, she and her handlers aren't worried about having the welcome mat pulled out from under her any time soon.
Last week, in a scene that was more pomp than circumstance, Wie showed up in Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle's office to accept another free invitation, this time to play in the Sony Open. The first full-field event of the PGA Tour is being staged near the teenager's home in Honolulu, and motivated as much by economic development as player development, the governor even boasted about lobbying the title sponsor for the free pass.
``I believe this will bring added exposure to the tournament and to the state. Michelle brings a lot of pride to our people. Everybody knows I'm not a golfer,'' Lingle said, ``but nobody is prouder than I am of Michelle.''
The governor then proved she wasn't a golfer by praising Wie for showing ``that she has the maturity and ability to hold her own'' -- which is only true up to a point.
Wie had what is best described as an eventful season. She became the youngest player to win a USGA title for adults in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links and made the cut in six of the seven LPGA tournaments in which she competed. It was highlighted by a tie for ninth in the season's first major, but marred by a run-in she and her father, B.J. Wie, had with veteran pro Danielle Ammaccapane over several breaches of etiquette at the U.S. Open.
Her outings with the men, however, weren't as memorable. Playing on sponsor exemptions and from the same tees, Wie missed the cut on the Nationwide Tour's Boise Open and the Canadian Tour's Bay Mills Open Players Championship.
Wie tried earning a spot in the Sony twice before in a one-day qualifying event and failed. Maybe that's why she didn't seem the least bit fazed by how it came about this time.
``I like the easy route,'' she said. ``I know how hard it can be. It's a one-day deal, and anything can happen. I like this way better.''
By the end of this year, at least a half-dozen women will have played against the men on tours around the world. It began with Annika Sorenstam, who was looking for a personal challenge at the Colonial after wearing out the competition on her own tour, and the novelty has been wearing off steadily since. The only woman to actually earn her spot, teaching pro Suzy Whaley, did it by winning a PGA club pro sectional from a shorter set of tees and then, like Sorenstam, missed the cut at the Greater Hartford Open.
Not long ago, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was asked whether he expected the gender-blending to continue.
``I don't see a trend involved here where a lot of tournaments are going to want women golfers to play,'' he replied. ``I frankly don't think there are many that add much to a tournament at this point in time.''
Sponsors can invite anyone they want, of course, and as Sorenstam proved over the objections of Vijay Singh, the exemption couldn't have been put to better use. Likewise, Wie's appearance at the Sony will help sell tickets and juice the TV ratings. Whether she will benefit nearly as much is a trickier question.
Even while doubting that women playing on his tour would catch on, Finchem allowed that Wie might be a special case. She already drives the ball as far as many PGA regulars. ``The question on everyone's mind,'' the commissioner said, ``is how far can this young gal go?''
But if Wie's ultimate destination really is the PGA Tour, her education will be better served by making her earn a place instead of having a governor shill for it. Riding the wave of celebrity has its moments, but it won't teach her anything about her golf game.
Earl Woods chose his son's spots with great care for that reason. He believed the most important thing was learning how to win. Tiger accepted a few exemptions into pro events while still a teenager, but he won three U.S. Juniors and the same number of U.S. Amateurs before he was unleashed on the PGA Tour.
``I wasn't going to send Tiger out there until I knew he could beat those guys, and I wouldn't send him out there,'' Earl said, ``until he knew he could beat those guys, too.''
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