OAKMONT, Pa. – For Michelle Wie and those who follow her, the wait goes on.
Not long ago, Wie was supposed to do for women’s golf what Tiger Woods did for the men’s tour: Become a dominant, charismatic star whose very presence guarantees that any tournament becomes a mini-major.
Seven years after she finished in the top 10 at the LPGA major Kraft-Nabisco at age 13, and six years after she shot a 68 in a PGA Tour event, the former child prodigy has yet to become a consistent performer. Or anything close to the can’t-miss, game-altering star of stars she was expected to be by now.
Despite her $10 million-plus in endorsement deals – no other U.S. female golfer earns anything close to this in off-course money – she’s a golfer only half the year, a full-time Stanford student with a demanding 20-credit course load the other half.
Rather than Wie, it was a relentless Cristie Kerr who won the LPGA championship by a remarkable 12 strokes two weeks ago in a performance reminiscent of Woods’ 15-shot victory in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Wie finished 20 shots back, looking confused and not very confident at times on a demanding course that penalized inaccuracy. Or exactly the kind of course that historic and oh-so-hot Oakmont Country Club will be when the U.S. Women’s Open starts Thursday in predicted 94-degree heat.
Maybe Oakmont will be the setting where Wie’s enormous talent fully emerges, where the accuracy of her putter matches the length of her drives and the can’t-miss kid finally wins.
But, as the two spoke to reporters a few minutes apart on Tuesday, the differences in personality and state of mind between Wie and Kerr were evident.
One hopes to win; the other knows she can. One knows she’s good and intends to stay that way; the other has been told since she was 10 that she would be very good, but has yet to excel beyond occasional flashes.
Wie: “I want to win a major, so I better be ready. You know, I’m just working on my game and having fun at it. I’m trying my hardest. You know, you never know.”
Kerr: “I feel great. I can’t control what the other golfers do, but I can control what I do. And I can control what I do well enough, then I will stay there (ranked No. 1).”
Kerr played a practice round with Wie at steamy Oakmont on Monday, but she couldn’t be lured into speculating what it will take for Hawaii native Wie to win a major.
“I don’t really focus on her game too much,” she said.
A telling answer there. Wie hasn’t finished in the top 10 at a major in four years, and she’s an unremarkable 16th on the LPGA money list although she first played in a tour event eight years ago.
Certainly, she’s still got plenty of time; at a comparable age, Woods had yet to win a major, either. However, the women’s fields are far younger than those on the men’s tour. Alexis Thompson, the latest next-big-thing, just turned pro at age 15, and there are 23 teenage golfers in the U.S. Open field who are younger than Wie.
Already, the next generation is arriving before Wie herself has arrived.
So far, Wie’s biggest accomplishments since turning pro are winning the limited-field Lorena Ochoa Invitational last fall – her only LPGA title – and leading the United States to a Solheim Cup victory (the women’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup) with a 3-0-1 record.
Not that such a resume is bad for one so young. Still, the feeling persists in the golf world: Is that all there is? And what will it take for Wie to progress from being a celebrity to being a force in the game?
David Leadbetter, Wie’s coach who is at Oakmont, predicts she might not realize her potential until the distractions and demands of college are over in two years. She expects to attend Stanford for five years.
Which means more waiting.
For now, Wie seems content to tee it up and hope for the best.
“You know, I just try and play the best I can, and hopefully my ‘A’ game will come out,” Wie said. “If it does then, hopefully, I can get up there. … Hopefully, everything will mesh together nicely and everything will work out.”