Wie is in the spotlight even without shining

The Baltimore Sun

Scanning the leader board at the LPGA Championship, you notice a couple of Chos, two Davies, four Lees, five Parks and nine Kims. Out of 149 names in yesterday's opening-round field, though, there are really only two that draw the attention of the casual sports fan, and both have done their part this week to illustrate what it means to be a professional golfer.

Annika Sorenstam told us what to do; Michelle Wie showed us what not to do.

The past several days - which began with Wie's curious withdrawal at the Ginn Tribute Hosted By Annika and continued with a public reprimand from Sorenstam and a Team Wie meeting with the LPGA's top boss - might ultimately push forward an important and inevitable realization: For the first time since Wie began making waves four years ago, the young golfer finds herself needing the LPGA just as much as the tour needs her.

And if both are going to move forward and feed off each other profitably, they'd better come to a quick understanding that what's best for Wie is best for the tour and vice versa.

After several days of wringing our hands over Wie's wrists, as the first round got under way, the attention was finally on golf - though probably not exactly how tour officials would have scripted. Here we are at the LPGA's premier event, watching young stars such as Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lincicome post great scores, inducting Se Ri Pak into the tour's Hall of Fame, seeing if Sorenstam has another major left in her - yet everyone was instead focused on a non-tour member.

This is supposed to be the LPGA's time to shine, but the tour is completely lost this week in the glare reflecting off Wie. Oh, how they love selling the story of the tour's changing of the guard, but here's the slight problem with the LPGA's fresh faces: None packs a fraction of the star power of Wie.

Yesterday she had the round's biggest gallery following her for 18 holes, plus members of the national media and an entourage of several coaches, therapists and parents, all on the 17-year-old's payroll. Wie shot an opening-round 73, six strokes behind the leaders.

Pressel is about one year older and shot a 68, just one stroke off the lead. Lincicome is four years older and finished the day two strokes off the pace. Yet, unless Wie misses the cut today or puts a Band-Aid on one of her wrists and withdraws, the next generation doesn't have a shot at rivaling Wie-mania. Always a bridesmaid - even if they happen to be holding a trophy.

"She brings tons of attention when she plays," Pressel said last week. "I think we all hope that she does well because when she does well, it brings more attention."

But the good news for the LPGA is that this prodigy's ascent has leveled off and tour officials seem to be remembering that they're actually the ones holding the rulebook and the ones charged with enforcing the rules.

Before Wie even teed off yesterday, LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens held an unscheduled news conference. She had hoped to clarify the LPGA's involvement in the fiasco that unfolded over the previous five days, but in doing so, also let it be known that the tour can unfurl its lip and show some teeth. Well, sort of.

"I think that leaving the tournament and coming to practice when one had pulled out with a wrist [injury] was not very respectful," Bivens said.

The tongue-lashing remained polite, but Bivens did make sure to mention that playing on the tour "is a privilege, and it is not a right" - the implication being if Wie, her shoe company, her management team and her parents think they can flout the rules and traditions, they're dead wrong.

The safe guess is that Bivens and Wie's handlers are realizing the same thing: Wie is not going to make it big playing in men's tournaments anytime soon, and if she doesn't start focusing her game and her calendar on winning on the women's tour, then her act will grow really old really fast. Sony and Nike didn't sink more than $10 million into her career so she can lose against both men and women.

Bivens hinted at some possible rule changes for non-members, and confirmed that she met with Wie's father and agent Tuesday to discuss the golfer's performance last week. While no one will discuss details of the meeting, you get the feeling they weren't sharing meatloaf recipes and knock-knock jokes. The tour getting tough on Wie is the best thing that could happen for the golfer, and in turn, the tour.


Tournament at a glance


Today: 7:15 a.m. (TV: 12:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m., Golf Channel)

Tomorrow-Sunday: approximately 8:30 a.m. (TV: 4 p.m.-7 p.m., Golf Channel)


Daily pass: Today, $22; Tomorrow and Sunday, $25. Seniors (over 50) free today. Weeklong badge: $65.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad