Fourteen-year-old Michelle Wie has caused an awful stir among a large segment of golf fans by taking a sponsors exemption offered by the Sony Open. Just about everyone blames Michelle. A few blame the PGA Tour. Virtually no one has thought to blame the Sony corporation. That is ' if anyone is to blame here.
Its right here in the tours constitution, under the heading All-Exempt Tour Priority Rankings.
In category 12, it reads:
12. Sponsor exemptions (a maximum of eight, which may include amateurs with handicaps of 2 or less) on the following basis:
A. Not less than two sponsor invitees shall be PGA Tour members not otherwise exempt.
B. Not less than two of the top 35 finishers and ties from the last qualifying tournament, as well as 2-15 from the 2003 Nationwide Tour money list, if not all of them can otherwise be accommodated.
Ive scoured the rules thoroughly and can find nothing about 14-year-old females ' particularly 6-foot, 14-year-old females who can belt out a steady succession of drives in the 280-290-yard range. I presume that if the sponsor wanted to invite a 6-foot grizzly bear ' who had a 2-handicap ' it would be perfectly permissible. The PGA Tour doesnt specify gender ' or species ' at all in any of the priority categories.
The tour is open to all comers who are least 2-handicappers. Man, woman or transsexual doesnt make the least bit of difference. Whether you have heard of them or not makes even less of a difference.
Somewhere there has been a huge misunderstanding that this tour is supposed to be for men only. The official name certainly doesnt suggest that ' Professional Golfers Association Tour. The LPGA name clearly states that women only are included ' Ladies Professional Golfers Association. But the PGA Tour ' never has been an exclusion. For 58 years only men played, from Babe Zaharias in 1945 until Annika Sorenstam last year. But that is because no one but men qualified ' or was invited. There never was a gender screening.
Im pointing this out because of the considerable amount of e-mails I have received about Wie, saying, basically, Who does she think she is, playing a tournament which is supposed to be for men? Shes doing it because she is accepted under the rules of the organization, and if someone wants a men-only organization, they had better spell that out in the introductory by-laws.
Many have said she received the invite just as a publicity gimmick. Thats probably at least partially true. But everytime Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus play, its a publicity gimmick - at least on a lower level. Neither is going to win the tournament. And yet, no one ever throws the publicity gimmick up to them. They are adored and welcomed, as they should be. But publicity gimmick is used to denote a negative, and in many cases it isnt. Wie in the field is one of those times.
The men who regularly play the tour think she has a right to be here ' at least the ones who have spoken out publicly. Whether its advisable for a 14-year-old to tackle such a hurdle is a different matter. But the pros agree that she has awesome talent, and no one has complained publicly about her teeing it up with them Thursday.
I saw Tiger before he turned pro,' Ernie Els told the Associated Press after playing a practice round with her. 'I think Michelle, a lot of what she did today reminds me a lot of what Tiger used to do. As a woman golfer, she's going to take it to the next level. I don't think I've ever seen a lady golfer swing the club as good as Michelle does.'
Are people irritated because Wie is only 14? Is it because she is female? What is the problem here?
She is in the field solely at the behest of the Sony corporation. She has a 2-or-better handicap (actually, she's PLUS 4.6, according to her GHIN handicap.) And those are the only requirements for an amateur in a PGA Tour event ' that the sponsor wants you, and you have a handicap low enough to play.
'Give her another couple of years to get stronger,' Els said. 'She can play on this tour. If she keeps working, doing the right things, there's no reason why she shouldn't be out here.
Sounds like she has the talent, at least at this tender age, to play again on the tour ' the PGA Tour ' one day. And that notion has been expressed by not just Els, but by Davis Love III, John Huston, Charles Howell III and Tom Lehman, to name just a few of the men weighing in on the subject. She may finish dead last, but in the future, she has the ability to do something the female gender has never done before.
So come on, people, lighten up a little. Wie probably is going to beat someone this week, and the odds are overwhelming that he will be a male. The odds are overwhelming that he will be older than 14. And the odds are that the world will not end just because Michelle Wie is entered in the Sony Open.
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