Maybe Its Time for Wie to Change Her Course

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For someone who grew up in Hawaii, Michelle Wie picked the perfect metaphor to explain her recent struggles.
 
'Golf goes in waves,' she said.
 
She was on the kind of wave found in winter at Waimea Bay earlier this year when she came within a whisker of becoming the youngest major champion in history, at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Championship. The biggest wave she caught might have been at Canoe Brook, when only a shaky putter kept Wie from becoming the first woman to qualify for the U.S. Open.
 
Michelle Wie
For Michelle Wie, the year has been filled with highs and lows.
Now, nearly every ride ends with a spectacular wipeout.
 
The latest was last week in Japan, where the 17-year-old Wie failed to break 80 in either of the first two rounds of the Casio World Open.
 
The only bright spot was that she didn't finish dead last, as she did at the Omega European Masters and the 84 Lumber Classic. An amateur, Tomomichi Oto, finished one shot worse.
 
The senior at Punahou School in Honolulu has gone back to the books for the final month of a tumultuous year, but Wie is eager to get back in the water. Asked if her latest crash would deter her from playing against the men, she replied, 'Not at all.'
 
Wie played seven times against the men this year, with an average score of 75.07 in 15 rounds (including U.S. Open qualifying). She broke par four times, twice at the SK Telecom Open when she became the first woman to make the cut on the Asian Tour.
 
Criticism comes not from missing the cut, but from an empty trophy case.
 
The last time Wie experienced winning was in 2004 at the Curtis Cup, a victory she shared with seven other amateurs. The last trophy she hoisted on her own was the 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at age 13.
 
She changed caddies in August. She changed agents in October.
 
The next thing she should consider changing is her course.
 
Wie is not about to give up her dream of competing against the men, whether that's a realistic goal of earning a paycheck on the PGA Tour or her fantasy of playing in the Masters.
 
But, for now, the next paper she writes should be a letter to LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens asking that the age requirement (18) be waived so Wie can join the tour.
 
Don't hold your breath. The Wie camp seriously considered asking to join the LPGA Tour, but instead will stick to the plan of Wie playing part-time against the women and men, enjoying her senior year of high school and deciding where to go to college next year (her family has ties to Stanford and UCLA).
 
Joining the LPGA Tour, however, makes good sense.
 
The LPGA counts money from domestic tournaments with at least 75 players in the field, which limits Wie to the Fields Open, the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Championship (the U.S. Women's Open doesn't count because its purse is so large). With only those three tournaments, she still earned $238,913, well inside the top 90 on the money list to apply for membership.
 
Joining the LPGA would be a detour, not an about-face.
 
More than anything, it would give Wie better options in building a schedule. Without an LPGA Tour card, she can play only eight times against the women -- six sponsors' exemptions, the U.S. Women's Open and the Women's British Open. To fill in the holes, she wound up playing six times against the men.
 
Given her success rate against men, and the damage it might be doing to her confidence, that's probably four times too many.
 
Having not won in more than three years, Wie made solid progress this year. She missed a 10-foot birdie putt to get into a playoff at the Nabisco, and had a share of the lead on the 16th hole of the LPGA Championship until making bogey with a wedge in her hand.
 
'I felt like every tournament I went into, I had a chance to win on Sunday,' she said last month. 'That excitement was the best. Almost winning, it gave me a lot of confidence. It was the first time for me, really, having a chance to win.'
 
Now, she's not even close.
 
She has averaged 79 in her last three men's events. Against the women, she has failed to break par in her last eight rounds.
 
And the schedule doesn't allow for her confidence to be replenished any time soon. When she starts next year on the LPGA Tour in February, Wie will have played only five times in a six-month stretch, four of those against the men.
 
Physically, the culprit has been her driver. Wie plans to spend two weeks with David Leadbetter in Orlando, Fla., before starting next season at the Sony Open. The rest of her schedule has not been determined, but it's not too late to consider the LPGA as a home base, as much for her image as her psyche.
 
As a rookie, she would have to play only 10 tournaments to keep her membership -- two more than she played this year, which would mean two fewer against the men.
 
What likely will keep her from joining now is her senior year of high school; Wie only played four times during the spring semester this year, and one of those weeks was spring break. And some of the best LPGA events are in the spring, such as Phoenix, Kingsmill and Orlando.
 
The only downside would be giving up some of the appearance money. The LPGA Tour allows its members two releases a year to play overseas, where Wie commands as much as $1.5 million. Considering her total income this year was about $20 million, she can afford it.
 
What she can't afford are more wipeouts.
 
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