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Re-Examining Michelle Wie

What Does the Record Show? Believe the Hype


Michelle Wie
John Brown

March, 2005 - Is Michelle Wie destined for greatness? Should she stop playing pro tournaments and focus on winning junior and amateur events? Is she an over-hyped commodity who hasn't accomplished anything to warrant the attention she receives?

Immediately following the PGA Tour Sony Open, I wrote that anyone who is starting to tire of the attention given to Wie should simply relax and enjoy the show. Because, despite the fact that Wie has only one victory of note to date, what she is doing right now is remarkable and unprecedented.

After a few days of thinking things over and reading commentary from others, I'm willing to go farther: Michelle Wie isn't destined for greatness ... she's already great. In fact, she's one of the 10 best female golfers in America right now, at age 15, and one of the 20 best in the world.

Let's take the questions from the opening paragraph one at a time.

1. Is Michelle Wie destined for greatness?

When this question is posed, what is meant by "greatness" is historic greatness; greatness of the type achieved by few other golfers in history.

There is a correct answer to this question, and that answer is this: I don't know. And neither does anyone else. We can't look into the future and know what Michelle Wie will be doing five years from now, 10 years from now, six months from now.

And we can't ask Michelle Wie to go forward in time and win a few big events in order to justify the hype that surrounds her now.

What we can do is compare what she's accomplished to this point with the accomplishments of other golfers at the same age. We can look at her skills relative to her age. We can listen to what LPGA and PGA Tour golfers say about her.

And when we do that, there is one inescapable conclusion: Wie is exhibiting greater potential at a younger age than any other golfer in history. Not based on hype, but based on her accomplishments to date.

Tiger Woods, for example, didn't play his first PGA Tour event until age 16, and then he missed the cut by six strokes, shooting 72-75. Michelle Wie, a girl, had that beat at age 14 on the PGA Tour. She didn't do quite so well in her second go-round at the PGA Tour Sony Open, but as Ron Sirak of Golf World suggests, the way she held her rounds together while clearly struggling at the 2005 tournament is a sure sign of a maturing golfer successfully dealing with pressure.

(We'll take a closer look at her LPGA Tour performances in the following sections.)

2. Should Michelle Wie stop playing pro events and focus on amateur events instead?

This argument gained some steam in 2004 when Wie failed to successfully defend her 2003 Women's Amateur Public Links title, and was eliminated early from the U.S. Women's Amateur.

The argument is that Wie would be better served by "learning how to win" in junior and amateur events. She needs to dominate at the lower levels in order to "learn how to win," the argument goes, before stepping up to the highest levels of competition.

I don't buy it. I'm not saying that skipping some junior and amateur events to play in more pro events is necessarily a better way of doing things; I just don't believe it's a worse way for her to learn and develop her game.

This isn't Ty Tryon we're talking about. Wie is actually competitive in her pro events. It's not even Tiger Woods we're talking about. Tiger missed the cut in his first PGA Tour event; if he'd made that cut, don't you think he would received - and accepted - more PGA Tour invites? Tiger didn't make a cut in a men's pro event for another two years, until age 18 and on the European Tour.

Well, Michelle Wie does make LPGA Tour cuts. She started making them at age 13, in fact.

Next Page: Is Michelle Wie Over-Hyped?

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