Michelle Wie Walking in John Daly's Footsteps?

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJuly 30, 2008

Sportswriters love to use analogies.


We love to say that somebody is the next Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky, even when we all know that these kinds of athletes are one of a kind.


When Michelle Wie first burst onto the golf stage at the age of 12 the world was introduced to a young phenom who could bomb it farther than 98% of the males on the planet.


Later, adorned with a lucrative Nike contract, Wie was blasting her way through the competition and receiving more buzz than a Brett Favre comeback. 


She had a swing to die for and a legion of fans turning into a sport they would never otherwise watch.


Sounds like a certain No. 1 ranked golfer who is currently on the shelf in Windermere, Florida.


Oh yeah, except for one thing: Tiger Woods actually won things.


Don’t get me wrong Michelle Wie has come close, particularly in the majors.  From the 2005 British Open to the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open, Wie finished third, third, fifth and third respectively. 


She had seven top tens in majors before she finished high school.


Her close calls always seemed to be undone by her putting.  Despite her 300-yard bombs, Wie could not master the three-footer.  She also had a tendency to go for it when she should not, like when she tried to chip in off the green of the 18th at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco and blasted it by the hole when an up and down would have gotten her in a playoff.


Questionable decision making and close calls at the majors?  Sounds like a young Phil Mickelson.


However, things have certainly taken a turn for the worse.  Michelle Wie suffered a terrible wrist injury last season which scarred her not just physically but, more importantly, mentally. 


Compound her injury with an undying devotion to play against the men and consistently struggle and the backlash was at a loud roar. 


People were tired of seeing someone who had done nothing in her career receive an undeserved sponsor’s exemption.


Even her fellow competitors raked her over the coals in the media.   


Some of the top LPGA players questioned her decision-making, her etiquette, and some (speaking perhaps with a tinge of jealousy towards the wall-to-wall coverage of Wie) kindly reminded people that there are other players on the LPGA tour that have actually won tournaments.


Wie had 24 consecutive rounds over par last year before a 71 at the 2007 Evian Masters.  That joy was short-lived after she shot 12-over in the third round.


People began to wonder if she was done from being a legitimate golfer forever.


Hmm…so now we have a vastly talented golfer who never realized their full potential due to bad decisions? 


We need someone that reduced to a freak show could hit it long, but did not have the mental toughness to stick it out for four days.


That reminds of a certain golfer who is more known nowadays for playing without his shirt on than his miracle victory at the 1991 PGA Championship as the ninth alternate.


Indeed, Michelle Wie may just be the John Daly of the LPGA. 


Even when there was a ray of light at the end of the tunnel at the State Farm Classic where Wie looked poised to finally win, she does not sign her scorecard and is disqualified.


Archaic rule or not, this is yet another mental blow for the “Big Wie-zy”.


So, of course, when you are finally coming out of your nearly two year golfing hibernation, what do you do? 


Go play with the men instead of playing the final major of the year in the LPGA.


Now it may just be me, but that’s a “Wie” bit crazy.


I think Michelle Wie is an amazing golfer and she can help bring the LPGA the popularity it deserves, but not by becoming a freak show like John Daly. 


Now I grant you there are some major differences. 


John Daly actually won two majors, but he also brought a lot of grief upon himself.  He was the one who hit the booze and the casinos instead of the practice range. 


Wie has been tightly controlled by her parents who clearly need to learn a thing or two about managing a phenom.  I think this “child star” parental control run amok makes Wie a far more sympathetic figure, but she will soon fade from the spotlight if Wie does not break free soon. 


Wie needs to win now. 


Mickelson and Woods learned how to win on the amateur circuit.  For learning how to win is not a simple task.  It requires a mental fortitude that is far different from simply making the cut.


Wie has made some terrible decisions, but she is still young enough to become more than a footnote in golf’s history. 


She needs to prove to herself and to everyone else that she can control all aspects of her game for four days against some of the top competition in the world. 


If she can, she will become the analogy we start pegging to talented, young golfers.


Otherwise, she might as well schedule a Pro-Am with Kid Rock next week.   


I ask you: Who is the more tragic figure in golf: John Daly or Michelle Wie? 


Will Wie ever turn it around? 


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