Spotlight Moves from Annika to Wie

By Associated PressOctober 12, 2005, 4:00 pm
PALM DESERT, Calif. -- The practice range at Bighorn was empty early in the afternoon, except for a solitary figure on the far left end. Annika Sorenstam was all alone, working her way through wedges and short irons as her caddie caught each shot with a baseball glove, rarely moving.
There were no fans, no cameras, no swing coaches, no agents, no hype.
Only four months ago, the LPGA Tour was all about Sorenstam and her quest for the Grand Slam. Now, even the best player in women's golf is swallowed up in the shadow cast by Michelle Wie.
The 16-year-old from Hawaii will make her professional debut when the Samsung World Championship begins Thursday, an event that has attracted media from all over the world and turned the LPGA into the ``Michelle Wie Show.''
For the last three years, LPGA players have rarely made it through an interview without getting asked something about Sorenstam. It only took three questions Wednesday before the 35-year-old Swede -- with nine majors, a career Grand Slam and a spot in the Hall of Fame -- was asked about a high school junior.
``It doesn't bother me,'' Sorenstam said. ``I think it's great we're getting more attention. If I couldn't get the attention, I'm glad Michelle can get it. I'm just happy to be a part of it. I know what I've achieved. I know the records that I have set, and nobody can take those away.''
Wie is hardly a newcomer, having played 24 times on the LPGA Tour alone since she was 12. She has made her last 16 cuts on the LPGA, and her three runner-up finishes this year include the LPGA Championship.
Expectations are entirely different now.
``It's a lot easier to play when you've got an 'a' by your name,'' said Juli Inkster, referring to how amateurs are denoted on the leaderboard. ``She had pressure as an amateur, too. When you have to count everything, it can take a little different feeling.''
Wie already has endorsements that are said to be worth $10 million a year, although some industry insiders think the numbers are slightly inflated. Either way, she makes more endorsement money than anyone, adding to the anticipation of how she will perform as a part-time pro.
Wie believes she is ready.
``I was practicing really hard playing for $5 incentives,'' Wie said. ``My dad would give me $5 if I made a birdie putt, and stuff like that. But my stakes are going to be a lot higher right now, so I'm practicing really hard. I don't really see it as pressure, I see it as incentive to practice harder.''
There have been comparisons to Tiger Woods because of their lucrative deals, and the buzz each generated when they turned professional.
Oddly enough, Ernie Els had a role in both decisions.
Els and Woods were in the clubhouse after the 1996 British Open when Woods asked him about turning pro.
``I told him he was good enough to turn pro,'' Els once said. ``He did, and the rest is history.''
Wie and Els played practice rounds at the Sony Open the last two years and are linked by nicknames -- the Big Easy and the Big Wiesy, the latter hung on the 6-footer from Hawaii by Tom Lehman, who said Wie's long, fluid swing reminded him of Els.
Two months ago, Wie was practicing in August with swing coach David Leadbetter when they called to ask Els' opinion about her future.
``Ernie told her there was no need to wait, as he thought she was ready to turn pro,'' Liezl Els said in an e-mail Wednesday. ``He spoke mostly to Michelle, but also had a word with her dad, whom he told the same thing.''
History awaits, and no one is sure how it will unfold.
For now, no one can deny the talent and the excitement surrounding it.
``Michelle is good for golf, just as Tiger was good for golf,'' LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens said. ``There are a lot of people who may not follow golf otherwise, but tune in when you've got Michelle or Tiger out there.''
B.J. Wie has said his daughter will not challenge the LPGA requirement that members be 18 years old. And while he says her focus will initially be on the LPGA Tour, the ultimate dream is to get her PGA Tour card.
Wie is trying to add 10 percent to her length, so the distance she carries her tee shot increases from 260 yards to 285 yards, which the father believes will allow her to compete against the men.
For now, Wie has to prove herself against her own gender.
The Samsung World Championship has only 18 players and no cut, the field determined by major champions and top players from the money list. Wie was given an exemption, which knocked Inkster out of the field. Not only that, Wie has signed up Inkster's caddie, Greg Johnston.
Wie tees off in the second-to-last group with Cristie Kerr, while Annika Sorenstam and Solheim Cup star Paula Creamer will be in the final group Thursday at Bighorn.
Creamer often gets lost in the talk over the youth movement, but she is more focused on someday overtaking Sorenstam at No. 1 in women's golf.
Creamer and Wie were on the Curtis Cup last year and by all appearances, they got along well.
``We're very good friends,'' Creamer said. ``A lot of people misjudge her. She's younger than everyone. But if she's bringing more attention to women's golf and more money with higher purses, that's great for me.''
Sorenstam, secure in her achievement and notoriety, also doesn't seem troubled by the extra attention.
She was content to practice alone Tuesday afternoon, and it was a phenomenal display. Her caddie, Terry McNamara, stood 85 yards away to catch soft sand wedges. He eventually moved back to about 150 yards when Sorenstam went with 8-iron, and on three consecutive shots, he stayed in the same spot.
Too bad no one was around to see it.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Samsung World Championship
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  • Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

    Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

    By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

    He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

    The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

    Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

    Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

    3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

    5/2: Rory McIlroy

    7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

    9/2: Justin Rose

    5/1: Brooks Koepka

    15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

    10/1: Adam Scott

    12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

    15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

    20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

    25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

    30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes