2004 Sony Open
in Hawaii

Michelle Wie Story:

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Saturday (Jan 2004) update -14 year old Michelle Wie misses the cut by just one shot!:  

Michelle Wie beat the going over/under of 150 for the first 36 holes with her two round total of even par 140 and only missing the cut by a single stroke!  (See Thursday's story which follows this) Wow!  That's why we work in the golf biz and we're not handicappers in Vegas -if we were -those casino's would be no more!

She probably got all she could out of her round yesterday in shooting the best score possible from where here golf ball was, saving par many times and holing a couple of plus 50 footers for birdies.  What she did this week at the Sony was rare for sure.  What was not rare however, is the manner by which great athletes react to situations and just find a way to get it done no matter what sport you're talking about.  

Michelle certainly showed us all that she is a great athlete in the making.  And she will only get better.  I'm not really all that surprised to tell you the truth.  And like I said last year, she will break all the records on the LPGA and will have The Most Legitimate Shot for any woman to win a men's professional golf tournament played from the men's tees. 

Think I'm crazy!?  Just wait and see!  

Thursday Jan. 15, 2004

As Hawaii’s ‘Pride and Joy’ -14 year old Michelle Wie gets ready to tee it up today with the pro’s at the Sony Hawaiian Open at Wailae CC in Honolulu there are a lot of opinions floating around.  Stewart Appleby, (last week’s winner of the Mercedes Championship over on the island of Maui ), was asked what he thought about it all.  ‘Stewie’ remarked that he hadn’t even teed it up until 14 and shot an aspiring 120 in his first round of golf!  When asked about the phenomenon of women playing in men’s golf tourney’s a la Annika last year at Colonial and Michelle in two Nationwide tour events via sponsors exemptions and now Wie at the Sony.  After several complements said, “After this week women playing in professional golf tournaments that there will be no more stories to write with regard to women playing in mens professional golf tournaments” –and then a fatherly gesture to all to let her enjoy her teen years into her early 20’s as some important years in her life.

Defending champion Ernie Els was gracious enough to have played a practice round with Wie on Tuesday morning –they called it ‘The Big Easy’ and the ‘Big Wiesey’!  Ernie’s a large fellow himself at six feet and young Michelle stands herself at a healthy six feet tall with long arms to her body, (perfect for golf), with a big swing arc, great tempo, generating lots of club head speed –resulting in those long drives of hers.  Els remarked that when he was 14 he was probably a 3 or 4 handicap golfer and here was Michelle at the same age playing in professional golf tournaments.  His comments about her game were, “She’s got beautiful rhythm.  She’s got it all.  The rhythm is probably the most impressive thing.”  (He ought to know as he’s got some of the best rhythm in professional golf).

There is some ‘confusion’ about the recent phenomenon of women getting to play in men’s professional golf tournaments though amongst the men’s professional tours.  Men pro’s get here through various routes.  Some were prodigies themselves and achieved their success relatively early and gained their playing privileges by going through qualifying school and then working their way up the ladder.  Others struggled harder to achieve those results.  But the common denominator is that they’ve all earned it through the process or ‘system’ that is set up on the PGA Tour.  So when anyone special is given a spot (sponsors exemption) into a professional men’s golf tournament, never mind a women there will be discussion and controversy and justly so.

The most commonly held opinion that I’ve heard amongst the chatter of PGA Tour players this week is that this is all fine and good.  But after this week Michelle should go back to junior golf and get used to winning and winning on that level.  Then work her way up through the usual ranks of progress, to the amateur level like Tiger did.  Tiger was the best amateur junior golfer in America, won the National Junior three times and then won the U.S. Amateur three times, then turned pro there in 1996 and won twice in two of his allowed sponsors exemptions in the fall there.  (After winning his third National Amateur title in late July at Newport CC.)  Tiger gave this opinion ‘inside’ last week as well as do many of the other established touring pro’s on tour.  At least that is the most commonly held opinion I’ve heard tossed around this week on the practice range putting green and surrounding environs.

It’s really a tough call to predict anything about someone else.  Everyone has their own timetable.  With Tiger’s timetable it worked out that way –story book and perfect.  That however in my opinion is the rare exception.  Michelle like Tiger may very well be the feline counterpart of him at the same age.  Only she is a little bit further on when comparing her to the LPGA pro’s and he to the PGA pro’s.  Tiger had something like 18 sponsors exemptions into professional golf tournaments before even making a cut –beginning at age 16 or so. Michelle contrarily was last year, at age 13, one shot off the lead at the LPGA’s Nabisco Championship in Palm Springs, playing off her sponsors exemption into that tournament (but failed in her first legitimate bid to win with a closing round of 77). 

Michelle recognized early on that she is capable of hitting the golf ball a lot further than those of the women’s professional tours.  She was already commenting on the fact that she would like to split time in her career on both the men’s and ladies tours.  Herein enters the controversy.  Can you imagine, at only 13 that these were her goals?  Last year (2003) Michelle Wie at 13 became the youngest holder of an adult amateur title (18 years or older), by winning the USGA’s Women’s Public Links Championship.  (I’d say she now holds a major title for all intensive purposes).

Michelle and her family traveled some 20,000 miles away from their native Hawaii (she’s Korean American), and got to experience her first year of golf ‘tour’ kind of travel.  She missed cuts in some LPGA events as well as Nationwide and one Canadian men’s tour event to which she was given a sponsors exemption.  She said it was the first time in her life that she’d seen fast bent greens.  (Hawaiian greens are mostly a grainy type of Bermuda ).  Overall she performed well though with that big win in the Public Links and with regard to her overall exposure to new turf and travel. 

This is all a learning curve.   She has to get better of course to make her way up through ‘her’ ranks.  Should that pathway lead though through ‘Junior Golf’?  Should she take the path of ‘consensus opinion’ of the PGA Tour players and go back to junior golf win at that level then work her way up through the ranks?   That’s a problem with ‘Conservative Opinion’ it is the opinion of how it was done in the past not necessarily of how it will get done in the future! 

I don’t pretend to know that answer but we can make a few comparisons.  We all saw how fast Tiger came up and then became ‘Dominant’.  19 year old Korean native Ahn won an LPGA event held there last fall and won that tournament after gaining eligibility to play through a sponsors exemption and as a result is now fully exempt to play in LPGA Tour events.  Phil Mickelson won a PGA tournament while he was still an amateur ( Tucson ). Ty Tryon got his PGA Tour card at 17 a couple years ago through the qualifying tournament but had only played mostly Florida style Bermuda greens.  (He lost his playing privileges subsequently through poor performance –but that was only his first try –he’ll be back though and have more opportunities in the future)   

In an earlier era Bernard Langer turned professional at age 16 as he needed to work and earn a living –no one could argue with his career results   This year on the PGA Tour and teeing it up at the Sony -Kevin Na, (an L.A. raised Korean American), turned pro in high school at age 17 and has already played on the Asian Tour and won, and played some on the European golf Tour last year before earning his card via the 2004 Q School this past December in Orlando.  Hunter Mahan is only slightly older than Kevin and at just 21 got his card through the Q school and has already competed in the Masters tournament.

What the players I think are really saying and all recognize is that Michelle needs to gain experience.  The ‘over/under’ this week is an optimistic 150 for two rounds.  No one expects Michelle Wie to make the cut here at the 2004 Sony Open.  If she shoots 75 or better in two rounds that alone will impress everyone.  Most think (like Annika at Colonial that she’ll have a difficult time breaking 80 each day –as they mistakenly did for the more seasoned Sorenstam at Colonial last year). 

And therein lays the truth of the matter with regard to the ‘chatter’.  But we can’t pretend to know her timetable nor how good she will become.  Neither did we know about Tiger.  One thing we know for sure Michelle is already a remarkable story.  At six feet she’s slender with long arms, attractive, and well spoken –a marketer's dream come true.  (Remember Tiger had a guaranteed contract from Nike worth 40 Million and one from Titleist worth 20 before he even teed it up back there at Milwaukee in September 1996). 

And I think ‘The Story’ is only going to get better.  I can see her playing a couple more years and becoming the youngest LPGA Tour player to gain her playing privileges and eventually winning on that level.  As far as playing against the men and being on the same level to be a legitimate contender on that tour.  Could you imagine?!!

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