Playing through at highest level might not cure what's ailing Wie

The Baltimore Sun

Michelle Wie played golf with the men yesterday, and in an exciting twist, it wasn't entirely painful to watch. In fact, it didn't look like it was painful to play, either - and therein lies a bit of a problem.

Last week, Wie ended her four-month break and played in her first LPGA event of the year, the Ginn Tribute in Mount Pleasant, S.C. By mid-round on the first day, her card was chock full of bowling scores, and she withdrew with two holes remaining. She claimed her wrist - the reason for that long layoff - was hurting too much to continue.

Not coincidentally, Wie was flirting with a first-round 88 at the time, which would have triggered a little-known LPGA rule that bars any non-Tour player from competing in another LPGA event for a calendar year after posting a score of 88 or higher. Wie - who'd managed a quintuple bogey earlier in the day - would have notched an 88 with bogeys on her last two holes.

So, with the LPGA Championship beginning tomorrow at Bulle Rock, there's a big question waiting to be answered: What's really wrong with the Wie?

Just four days after that wrist ached too much to play, Wie was matched with four amateurs yesterday for the pro-am tournament. There were more course volunteers than spectators around the tee box at 7:30 a.m., watching Wie wince slightly and flex her hand, trying to shake the pain from her fingertips. She walked to her trainer, who massaged Wie's hand and fingers.

Golfer officially injured and controversy over, right? Not quite.

The hand the trainer rubbed - the one with the tightly wrapped wrist - was her right one. In withdrawing from last week's tournament, Wie cited pain in her left wrist, which she hurt this year.

Wie teed off, and for 18 holes, a golfer who's usually full of expression and emotion didn't show any signs of pain. She didn't look at her wrist - either of them - didn't flex her hands, didn't try to rub away any pain.

Wie didn't answer questions after finishing her round yesterday, heading from the final green straight to the clubhouse. Her publicist later explained that the golfer still feels chronic pain in her right wrist from a previous injury and confirmed that it was the left wrist that forced her to withdraw last week. He said a final decision would be made today on whether Wie would compete at this week's LPGA Championship.

Even if the 17-year-old played pain-free yesterday, it'd be a mistake to assume that all is great in Wie-world. Something sure feels wrong, and it might have nothing to do with her wrist.

Wie played OK in yesterday's pro-am. Because it's a best-ball format, it's difficult to quantify her performance with scores or stats. While she hit some fairways and some greens, Wie also missed several shots, did nothing worthy of an ovation and failed to sink a single putt of any length.

Late in the round, Wie's energy level was nearly nonexistent, like a thermometer dropped in a bucket of ice. On the second-to-last hole, she actually plopped herself onto the grass and sat cross-legged in the middle of the fairway, fingering one of the dolls that dangled from her golf bag.

For a moment, Wie didn't seem to notice that her back was turned to one of her playing partners, who stood just a few feet away and was addressing his ball. She rose to her feet and the group continued the round.

Just as puzzling, on two of the last three holes, Wie didn't even attempt a putt, scooping her ball as soon as a playing partner sank his and walking onto the next tee.

Last week, at the Ginn Tournament, reported that she showed "little energy" and barely interacted with her caddie or playing partners. "I kind of felt bad for her," playing partner Alena Sharp told "She didn't seem happy."

If Wie feigned injury to escape a harsh Tour penalty last week, it's a slap in the face to a sport that relies on honesty, a game in which both the weekend hacker and the Tour money leader self-report their infractions. It's why this sport more than any other can reflect a competitor's true character.

But let's not assume that Wie orchestrated last week's mess. The LPGA, her agent and her parents were all complicit, and all deserve more than a wrist-slap for this wrist flap.

Even though there's a segment of the sports population that somehow finds pleasure in her struggles, I've always liked what she brought to the table. I first wrote about her four years ago, when she was 13 and sported a metallic smile that looked like the grille of a vintage Buick. Then, I felt strongly that she would benefit from playing against the very best. My opinion didn't waver until these past few days.

Now, it seems like a sore wrist is the least of her concerns, and until Wie fixes whatever's wrong - physical, mental or otherwise - she suddenly has more to lose than gain by competing in top-tier tournaments.

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