You love her, you loathe her. No one feels ambivalent about her. But there is no denying that one of the biggest sports stories of 2006 was the continuing saga of teen-ager Michelle Wie.
The year was filled with both the good ' top-5 finishes in three of the four LPGA majors, a runner-up in the Evian Masters ' and the bad ' missed cuts in all three of her PGA TOUR appearances as well as in European and Japanese tour events. Along the way she made almost $20 million in endorsements, appearance money and purse money. And its all almost become a blur to the senior high school student in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Whether I play good or play bad, said Wie, I end the week knowing that I tried my hardest. It doesn't discourage me at all. ... I'm still young, so I'm still learning.
Her year began slowly, Wie missing the cut by four strokes in the PGA TOURs Sony Open in her home state. But when she began competing against women, she quickly zoomed to the top ' a third-place finish in the Fields Open, followed by another third in her first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. In that attempt, Wie was leading the field during the final nine holes of the tournament, only to finish just one shot out of a playoff.
She finished tied for fifth in the McDonalds LPGA Championship, tied for third at the U.S. Womens Open. A tie for 26th in the Weetabix Womens British Open was the only blot on an exemplary womens-major finish.
Take away the Womens British and a tie for 27th in the Samsung World Championship, and Wies average finish in womens events this year was a gaudy 3.5. However, against the men, she lost ground over her 2005 season ' she didnt come close to making a cut on the PGA TOUR or the European Tour or the Japanese Tour. And then there was her failed attempt at qualifying for the mens U.S. Open, where she made it through the first stage, but faltered late in Stage 2.
She did make the cut in the SK Telecom Open on the mens Asian Tour, but in that one against second-rate Far East pros she finished 35th.
A 17-year-old girl finishing so highly in the womens majors is a story unto itself. However, in trying and failing so often against the men, Wie gained a whole host of critics who vehemently objected that she should attempt to compete against men. And Wie definitely is aware of those negative sentiments ' but she will continue to tee it up against the gents whenever she gets an invitation.
A lot of people think that I have to master the LPGA before I can get to the PGA (TOUR), said Wie. But my feeling is a little bit different on that because they're so different.
Obviously, I'm playing the maximum number of LPGA tournaments that I can, and I'm trying to win a lot of tournaments there. But it's just so different out here that I feel like I have to play in PGA TOUR events to get better at PGA TOUR events, and I just have to go through it and work on it and learn from it. That's the way that I learn how to do it on the LPGA, as well, and I just think that I have to go through the same progress here. I know it's not going to come overnight. It's just a long learning progress.
Wie provoked further criticism when she professed she didnt know a rule against hitting moss during her backswing in a bunker at the Weetabix ' she was penalized two strokes ' and took another public-relations hit when she fired caddie Greg Johnson after her T-26 finish at the same tournament. Actually, she didnt personally deliver the news ' that was done by then-agent Ross Berlin. But the action further alienated many in the golfing public.
Despite her misses while playing with the men, Wie says she doesnt plan to quit the considerable challenge. She will keep on doggedly pushing ahead until she finally cracks through.
I never get discouraged, she says. It's not like it's a really easy thing to do, to make a cut on the PGA TOUR. If you think about it, every week, half the field is gone after the cut. I mean, the cut isn't like out of 144 players, 100 make it - only like 70 and ties make it. It's a really hard thing to do, and I feel like it's just really fun for me to play in these kinds of events.
I think it's a bigger deal for everyone else. Obviously I would love to make the cut. I would love to make the top 20. But I'm not really going to rush it. I realize it's not the easiest thing in the world for a 16-year-old girl to make the cut. I have to get stronger, I know where I have to get better at, and it's going to happen. I know it's in me, but Ive just going to play hole-by-hole and not really think about the cut.
Of course, the pressure continues to mount at each traditionally male event to advance to weekend play. But that, says Wie, is not the reason why she wants to make cuts. She doesnt want to advance just so she can become one of the first of her gender (along with Babe Zaharias) to achieve such a lofty honor on the PGA TOUR.
I want to make cuts because it's an achievement and it's a goal of mine. I'm not out here to justify anything. ... I feel like I don't really feel any extra pressure just because I'm a girl out here, she says.
One point that is often missed by her critics is that Wie is allowed to play in only six LPGA events a year as a non-member. Additionally, she is allowed to play in the U.S. Womens Open and the Womens British. Once she has played those, she HAS to play in mens events if she wants to keep active. But she says that is a rule that she is perfectly happy to abide by.
I would love to play one or two more events, she said. But unfortunately they (the LPGA) have the restriction and I'm very happy with the tournaments that I'm playing in.
I think that since I'm only playing a restricted number of LPGA events, it really opens up my schedule to play internationally and to play in more men's events - which I think is fabulous for me because I really enjoy playing internationally and playing on the PGA TOUR, playing on the Asian Tour, playing on the European Tour. It just brings so much excitement to my life that I really like it and I really like having the diversity.
And maybe the restriction of just being able to play in eight womens events has another side ' maybe its to the advantage of a high-school senior who just turned 17 October 11.
I think that having to balance school and golf is very important to me, because truth be told, I don't think I can really handle going out every single week and playing every single week. I like having the social life. I like having to get away from golf and just going to school and just being myself and just being 16 or 17 or 18.
I like having the dual life, so I'm very happy that school is still going to be a part of my life and that golf is still a part of my life, because they're both very important to me. And I feel like I have a good balance between the number of tournaments that I play and the amount of time that I spend in school.
So, she will again do what she did this year ' play a mix of womens and mens tournaments, and do it in spite of the multitudes who criticize her.
I think what Im doing might be right, might be wrong, she said, but its what I want to do right now, and it makes me happy. So I intend to keep on doing it.
Going into next year, this teen-ager surely will be a marked woman ' er, girl. She is simply a kid, a senior at a Honolulu high school, but she is so much more. Shes 6-feet-1, shes intelligent and she has a wonderful talent for playing golf.
I don't like being normal. I mean, people called me queer, but I like it, Wie said with a laugh.
I feel like I'm really normal when I'm at school. I'm normal on the golf course. It's hard to say what normal really is, you know. What is normal? I'm not really sure what that actually means. But I feel like God gave me a special talent, and I intend to use it. You know, when I'm at school, I'm me.
And, she is revising a lot of peoples opinions. Golf, from here on out, may not be just a gentlemens game.
Come on - I mean, a gentlemen's game? she said. It's just such an old mentality, and it's for anyone. It's really a people's game.