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Woods' parents set the bar high

The Baltimore Sun

Tiger Woods hasn't taken over the entire world, as his dad once implied he would. But this weekend, starting today, he takes over the capital of the free world. He's hosting a golf tournament at Congressional that's a combined tribute to the Washington community, the troops and his newborn daughter, Sam.

And to his father, Earl. The tourney's official name is the AT&T; National, but the better name would be the Tiger's Dad Memorial. Woods spoke at length to reporters Tuesday, and in every answer, it seemed, was the thread of his father's influence: on his upbringing, his discipline, the commitment to charity, his respect for servicemen - Earl was a Green Beret - and his new family responsibilities.

There are prodigies running around in every corner of sports and in every arena of entertainment, with stage mothers and fathers in tow - but few turn into Tiger, and few of them use their wealth and stardom to benefit others the way Tiger is this week.

It all reflects well on everything Earl Woods did to steer little Eldrick toward the ultimate fulfillment of his destiny, as a golfer and as a man.

Which brings us to another golf prodigy, Michelle Wie, who isn't playing this week - at Congressional or anywhere else. Wie is injured, slumping badly, alienating her fellow players, shedding supporters at an alarming rate and suffering an extreme reputation backlash, all with her 18th birthday still three months away.

The generally acknowledged reason: Wie is getting horrifically bad career advice, largely from her main advisers, her family.

This is not to say that Wie's mother and father, who steered her toward a multimillion-dollar playing and endorsement deal when she was 15, are not good parents.

This is to say that turning kid genius into grown-up genius is harder than it looks.

And that in hindsight, Earl Woods made it look ridiculously easy.

There are a lot stronger candidates for the role of anti-Earl - and anti-Tida, out of respect to Woods' mother - in the world. Tagging Wie's parents that way is unfair. Wie's career might have taken a wayward turn, but not a Jennifer Capriati-type turn; nor do the screw-ups by her parental advisers rise to the level of Mary Pierce's or Todd Marinovich's. Or, for that matter, Michael Jackson's or Lindsay Lohan's.

But this is an undeniable speed bump. Woods never hit anything like this in his teen years. He was very lucky, but he also had the right people behind him. Stand on the first tee with him this morning and look back, and you can marvel at how many chances any precocious young star has to mess up. Woods never did.

If Wie ever gets to that point in her career, she'll look back at a brutal year. But she'll never get to that point if she doesn't figure out what went wrong in that year. Or who went wrong.

Wie didn't forget how to play when she turned 17. This time last year, she was right on pace for the accomplishments to catch up to the hype. The stardom was a matter not of if, but when. It still is.

But she got hurt. There's nothing sinister about that, and no conclusions can be drawn about her character because she did. But a lot can be drawn from how she handled it - or how the people in charge of taking care of her handled it.

Somehow, between her and those adults with that responsibility, the roles got confused. Whoever was making the decisions, the choices didn't reflect well on the ones who should have been making them. It's almost impossible to imagine Earl and Tida letting their son get into the predicament the Wies have gotten themselves into in the past month, the ones that have tainted them all.

If nothing else, they wouldn't have let the whole snowball get rolling by having him play through a broken wrist, just to fulfill sponsor obligations or satisfy an urge not to miss a major or whatever compelled Wie to bypass common sense.

Before she's done, she'll finish more majors than she'll drop out of (as she did at the U.S. Open last week) and win more than she'll finish last in (as at the LPGA at Bulle Rock last month). But before she does, she'll have to rebuild all the goodwill she burned through.

How much blame is hers? She has time to figure it out. One hopes she's taking time out to nurse her wrist back to health, and impending entry into college gives her another natural window. In that time she'll figure out how she can regain her good name. And it wouldn't hurt to find out how much of her image problem can be traced a generation back and what, as a girl turned young woman, she ought to do about it.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods sits atop the golf world - and the sports world - hosting a tournament near the capital of the free world. He knows, everybody knows, you can trace that a generation back.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Read David Steele on the Nathan's hot dog-eating contest at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

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