Michelles Mission Is Something Special
This week she hangs around the mainland to play one more event, the LPGAs Safeway Classic in Portland (Begins Fri. at 8:00PM ET on TGC), before she packs up the clubs and heads home to Honolulu. Not since the Jackson Five has a 13-year-old stirred up such a fuss.
Michelles Magnificent Summer has caused quite a controversy. Many people criticized her parents, perhaps rightly so, for shoving her onto the national scene to become a golfing idol at such a tender age. The critics seemed to have some good reasons ' after all, shes still a child, she needs time to mature, all this will still be there when she becomes a woman, etc., etc.
But maybe this requires a second look. Maybe ' just maybe ' shes got the maturity to handle it. And maybe ' and of much less importance at the moment ' shes got the golf game to handle it.
Does it astound you to even think that a 13-year-old can compete at such a high level? I dont know of anyone ' boy or girl ' who has ever been this good. Think of it, people ' she just played against the men of the Nationwide Tour, from the back tees, and she shot in the 70s both times! And shes barely a teen-ager?
Nancy Lopez weighed in last week on the subject, after playing in an exhibition with Wie, John Daly and Hank Kuehne. Lopez marveled at how composed and mannerly Michelle was, how far she has progressed with her golf game. And she also had this to say:
If I had a daughter her age, would I want her competing against guys? I wouldnt, this mother-of-three said. The reason I wouldnt is because shes not going to win ' I dont think. And I dont think she will even when she gets bigger and stronger.
If I had a daughter her age, I would want her to play all of her amateur golf she could play, win everything she can win. Thats making her get better, giving her confidence.
Nancy is exactly right about the confidence part. I have all the respect in the world for her, but I wonder if she didn't overstate the case just a little in this instance.
How much better is Wie going to get in Hawaii, playing against schoolgirls? Shes already beaten them ' soundly. She won the Womens Amateur Public Links championship in the States. She finished in the top 10 in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, an LPGA major. Maybe its time to move on.
Ive never been a parent to a 13-year-old, and obviously Nancy has. Ive never won 48 times on the LPGA Tour, and obviously Nancy has. Admittedly coming from the background of a novice, I think the advice sounded a little conservative. I dont think Lopez is necessarily wrong. But something says Wie might be a special case.
Nancy, though, isnt nearly as vociferous about Wie playing in pro tournaments as others have been. Some dont think she should be playing in these events at all. Some dont think she should be playing ' horrors! ' against the men, regardless of the setting.
Now, Mr. and Mrs. Wie seem like nice, average people. As far as I can tell, they havent got a case of Little League-itis, arent pushing Michelle to play when she doesnt want to. Michelle seems to live a normal life when shes at home, going to school just like any kid, enjoying shopping and listening to CDs and doing her homework.
The one thing that sets her apart is her golf. And if the kids at her school dont make a big fuss about it, then why should we? If she isnt missing too much schoolwork, why shouldnt she play wherever she wants? If her parents can afford the $70,000, then I say go for it.
This much youve got to admit - Michelle has out-of-this-world talent for a young teenager. If she had the same talent for acting or singing or playing the piano, would there still be naysayers? I dont know ' but it seems a shame not to give her the chance to excel. If her parents check with her frequently about what she wants to do, then she should be allowed to play as long as she wants and the finances hold out.
There cant be any doubt that her invitation to Boise last week was all for publicity. But so what ' as long as she doesn't get her confidence shattered. She is using Boise for her own experience, while Boise is using her to make a buck.
If she can at least stay on the course with the gents at this young age, whats she going to do in, say, five years? Her destiny will always be womens golf, but if shes invited, should she not dabble in the mens sport?
She's fortunate in that she lives in Hawaii, instead of California or Florida or Arizona. There isn't the great hubbub in the islands that would be foisted upon her in the mainland. She can still be 'just a girl' there.
A girl, though, who can bang out 300-yard drives? Everything you've heard about childrens' sports is about to be rewritten. Maybe we should consider child behavior, too. Michelle seems to be different.
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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey
SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.
The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.
It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.
“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”
Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.
According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.
“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.
And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.
As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.
He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.
“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.
Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.
“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”
Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.
Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.
“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.
Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.
Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1
SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.
After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.
With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.
“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'
SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.
“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”
On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”
Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”
Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.
“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”
Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines
SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.
Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.
Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.
Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:
• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10
• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1
• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1