Michelle Wie: Why the LPGA Tour Needs Her to Play Well
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If Wie is on top of her game—if she's playing well and consistently positioning her name on the top of leaderboards week in and week out—the LPGA Tour is better for it.
Not that the ladies' circuit is hurting for good stories—there are a ton of them if anyone would take the time to notice. But Wie, despite her abysmal 2012 season thus far, is still the proverbial straw that stirs this particular drink.
She attracts attention on a mainstream level without even trying.
Take the LPGA Championship as an example. I spent four days in Rochester, NY covering the event a few weeks ago. Outside the realm of die-hard golf enthusiasts, there was little interest when Shanshan Feng won the event with a brilliant five-under-par score on the final day.
That's not a knock against Feng. She's an outstanding golfer and she played very well. She earned the victory. But if Michelle Wie wins that tournament—or even if she contends in that tournament on Sunday—the world takes notice.
As women's professional golf prepares for its biggest tournament of the year—the U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, WI—Wie is struggling through another less-than-stellar tournament performance. After one round at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, she is one over par, seven shots off the lead.
It's not a bad score, especially when you consider some of her previous outings this year.
In nine tournaments on the LPGA Tour in 2012, Wie has missed the cut in five of them. Her scoring average is 75.27. She's not doing anything particularly well, hitting a little less than half her fairways and just under 60 percent of her greens in regulation.
Then there's her putting average. At almost 32 putts per round, Wie is near the bottom of the tour with the flat stick.
Because of all this poor play, Wie has watched her Rolex Ranking drop to No. 39 in the world with only $19,000 of tournament income.
She's disappointed. Her fans are disappointed. The LPGA Tour is disappointed.
Since Wie picked up a golf club at the age of four, the expectations have always been overwhelming—and unfair, if you ask me. She lived up to the billing as best she could, considering this teenager was trying to go to school and manage a high-profile professional career complete with all the endorsements, appearances and responsibilities that come with the territory at the same time.
Fast-forward to today and the little girl who grew up before the golfing world's eyes is now a 22-year-old college graduate.
I figured her golf game—highlighted by seven top-10 finishes in 2011—would improve, as she is able to focus on her career full-time. But that has not been the case.
In fact, it's been the exact opposite. The transition from attending classes at Stanford to practicing and playing a full-time golf schedule hasn't gone as expected. But I expect that to change.
Michelle Wie is far too talented to continue playing this poorly.
The LPGA Tour has a lot of personality and a lot of talent. World No. 1 Yani Tseng is breaking records and playing golf as well as anyone before her. She's an amazing talent and she's destined for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Then there's 17-year-old Lexi Thompson, mature beyond her years and every bit of what the women's tour hopes for in leading them into a very successful future. And Paula Creamer is still the sweetheart of the LPGA Tour and maybe its most popular player.
I could go on and on. There is a long list of exciting talent, each with her own unique story.
But something's missing. Michelle Wie is missing. And she's missed.
The LPGA Tour needs her back—back to playing the way she's capable of playing. I won't go so far as to say the future of women's professional golf depends on her, but it's a whole lot better off when she's an integral part of it.
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