Love It or Loathe It Shes a Pro Now
So, she isnt a polished public speaker. The giggles, the ums, you knows and I means sounded exactly a 15-year-old ' just days shy of being 16 ' would say if she were suddenly thrust in front of a highly inquisitive world.
That doesnt matter, though. Michelle Wie needs only to be a polished professional golfer. Along the way, she showed signs of being a philanthropist ' she announced that her first gift would be one of $500,000 to the victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. As an American citizen, I felt it was my duty, she said.
This day has been a long time coming for her. From the first time I grabbed a golf club, I knew that, you know, I would do it for the rest of my life, and I loved it, she said. But the decision really came down to the last couple of months ' I felt really ready, I felt mature enough, I felt comfortable enough out there.
Her decision to turn professional has polarized an entire world of golf fans. Some are ardently in her corner, others are adamantly against her. Those who regularly peek at my rants know that I am among those who think she should do whatever she thinks appropriate.
However, neither I, nor those who think that this is a terrible mistake, matter too much in the grand scheme of things. The opinions that really matter are the professional players, those who have been down this path before and who will be sharing a professional platform with Wie. Here are their views, collected over the course of two years:
ANNIKA SORENSTAM ' Shes impressive. Shes very talented. She hits the ball a long way. Shes very mature in the golf course. I love her golf swing. The potential is there in the future ... Shes so young, she has many years ahead of her that shes going in the right direction and I think shell be good for the future of womens golf.
JOHN DALY - My only concern is that she is going to be burnt out before she gets to maybe the peak that she wants to get to. I think most of the guys on tour were really rooting for her at the Public Links. I know I was. It would be cool to see her play in the Masters, but my concern for her is that she is still a baby. She is only 15 years old and she has got a lot of other things that she needs to learn in life as well; the biggest concern that I see is that you just do not want to burn that talent out before she reaches her peak. Like everybody else does, we just wish her the best and we love watching her play golf. She is phenomenal.
MEG MALLON: You just don't know what is going to happen down the road. I love that she's 15 and she has that goal (to eventually play the mens tour). Why not? Good for her, I hope it's her goal. It sounds like it is. So if that's what she wants to do then, that's absolutely wonderful. I hope she gets the opportunity to do that.
ERNIE ELS ' I think we've got a different person here. I think from when she was 13, she wanted to play out here on the PGA Tour, and I think to make a difference in life, and that's what she's after, to make a difference. She wants to be different and she definitely is going to be different if she can get to her goals.
I don't think you should stand in her way. I think her dad and her mom are doing what they feel best for Michelle, and that's to let her go and do what she wants to do. Her dream is to play out here with us. I think at the end of the day, Michelle probably if she wants to play on (the mens) tour, when she gets old enough will have to go through tour school, get through that. She'll be very welcome on tour. She will definitely get every sponsor exemption she asks for.
JIM FURYK: (Answering a question whether she would be taking someones spot in the field) Well, see, I have a problem with that argument in that it's a sponsor's spot. It's not really their spot. ESPN asked me a question yesterday, was I surprised that she was in the field again this year. And I said, Hey, if anyone was going to have a surprise, it would have been last year. After the attention she had gained and the notoriety that she had gained and the attention the tournament (Sony Open) gained probably not only nationwide but worldwide, it was a no-brainer. You just expected that she would be in the field again because it was such good publicity and such a good thing for this golf tournament. I would expect that she would be here.
Will it bother some players if she got an exemption somewhere else? I'm sure it would. I'm not one of those people.
CRISTIE KERR: She's so young, and she's so talented and it's really not a normal situation that somebody that young would be that good, and, in a sense tournament tested. I just hope she wants to play on our tour because we really need her and she can bring in so many new sponsors and fans. And in a sense, not to discredit Annika - Annika does an amazing job - but sponsors look at certain people differently. For her (Wie), she's just got this aura around her that makes people want to pay attention and Annika has done that for a lot a lot of years. But people are always looking for something new and fresh and she's it right now.
PHIL MICKELSON ' Well, five years from now, she is going to be 20, which is still so young and she has such a long career ahead of her. I do not care if she plays in one of these things tomorrow or in a few years from now. She is such an incredible talent that her chance to play in these will be for years and her chances to play in big events, whether it is mens tour events, whether it is womens tour events, will be for many, many years. So I guess what I am saying is there is no rush. To be only 15, it is just incredible to be playing the way she is.
TOM LEHMAN: I think there's a great deal of respect for her talent. I think she proved to everybody last year (at the Sony Open) that being that she lives here, that she deserves a spot in the field. I think everybody pulls for her. I think that's really probably the most important thing. I think everybody out here is pulling for her. She doesn't step on anybody's toes. She's respectful. I think people respect her talent as well.
DAVID TOMS: I think it's obviously good for the tournament. I mean, there's a reason that she's here. I've been watching her lately. She's played extremely well. You know, I'm for it if every tournament wants to do what's best for that tournament, and the strongest field they can possibly have, the notoriety that they can have. I don't have any problem with it whatsoever, and I wish her well. She's obviously a great talent, and she'll add a buzz to this tournament that otherwise wouldn't be here. I mean, she's as nice as can be.
PAUL AZINGER: She's phenomenal. There's no shame in losing to her. We were talking about it today (at the Sony Open) on 17. One guy in my group was 5-over with two to go and he birdied the last two holes, and Ted Purdy saw me the other day, and was grinding not to let Michelle beat him. I said, No shame to lose to go that girl. She's awesome. She hits it like a man.
JILL McGILL: She's proven that she can compete with the best women golfers in the world, and if she feels as though her goal is to play against the men and play on the PGA Tour, who am I to say no? If that's what you want to do, I wish her the best of luck. I hope she does accomplish it, because I think that she does nothing but good things not only for the women, but also for the men. I think it draws more attention to them. I think it draws a lot of attention to our tour.
And I get a little tired of people saying, Oh, you know, her aspirations are too high. I mean, whatever your goals are, I think you should set them and you should go for them. She stated what they are and I think she's working towards that. You can't take that away from her.
Not every pro golfer agrees that she is doing the right thing, of course. And goodness knows, not all the great unwashed public believe she is correct, either. But I say let her do her thing. She is ready physically. If she is ready mentally, it should be quite a ride over the next 30 years.
McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.