It's LPGA's week to open fire
Sixty-seven-time winner Annika Sorenstam is the reigning queen of women's professional golf but the first five media questions for her in the McDonald's LPGA Championship interview room yesterday were all about the so-far winless Michelle Wie.
Thirty percent of the questions fielded by Sorenstam, Morgan Pressel and Karrie Webb overall had to do with a certain 16-year-old from Hawai'i, prompting Pressel to pointedly ask: "You don't waste any time, do you?"
Indeed, less than 20 hours after Wie's failed attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open, the LPGA Tour found itself a supporting actress and one of its major tournaments a Wie backdrop in the summer road show.
For the most part, tour members diplomatically fielded questions, if not always relishing it. But for all the niceties observed and tongues bitten, you've got to believe that swoosh on Wie's sponsored apparel just became a clubhouse-sized bull's-eye this week at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md.
If Wie's rising fame and multi-million dollar endorsements didn't give her envious LPGA sisters ample reason to want to knock her down a peg on the leaderboard and enhance their own standing before, the Wie-is-the-world U.S. Open sectional undoubtedly did.
Rarely has one week so dramatized the expanding gulf between Wie and her supposed peers or so solidly reinforced the celebrity pecking order in the sport. While the LPGA Tour was playing the ShopRite Classic in one part of New Jersey over the weekend (can anybody name the winner off the top of their head?), Wie was drawing more attention just practicing for the U.S. Open sectional in another part of the state.
As Pressel observed yesterday: "It also hurts the events she doesn't play. And, people say, 'Oh, well, if Michelle's not playing, it is a second-class event.' "
And when Wie finally teed off at Canoe Brook Country Club, the golf world screeched to a halt watching. The Golf Channel billed her attempt to become the first female contestant in 106 years as "Wie's quest for the U.S. Open," largely ignoring the rest of the field. More than 200 media requested credentials and major golf sites followed her hole-by-hole. Yesterday's New York Times featured a Wie photo four columns across the top of the front page, not sports, dwarfing Iran and Iraq.
"Michelle is a phenomenal talent, but there are players out there that are also phenomenal talents who don't get the press that she gets because with her it's always been about the media and making decisions that kind of spotlight her in the media," Beth Daniel, an LPGA Hall of Famer, told the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press last week.
Much as the LPGA players might like her to play their tour and share some of the spotlight, Pressel incisively noted there's really little reason for Wie to get a card any time soon, if at all. "I mean, she's got it made right now. She can go over to Japan and play for a ($1 million) guarantee, you know, for just as much money as some of our purses, so why would she want to come play in LPGA events when, I mean, she's making lots of money?"
The reason Wie is playing on a higher plane is that she is also playing a different game than the rest. Wie transcends her sport. She is bounding over age and gender barriers. She's passionately taken up the challenge and been adroitly marketed for it. She's captured imaginations of sports fans and non-sports followers alike with her pluck even if the trophy case is largely empty at the moment.
"The media has created this huge persona that the public is absolutely fascinated with; with this idea of a woman competing in a men's event," Pressel said. "And, she's a great player; you can't take that away from her. And, I'm sure when she comes on the LPGA Tour, you know, she brings all the hype with her."
But will Wie ever be a card-carrying LPGA regular? "I said I wish that she would play more obviously on the LPGA Tour, but she's got it made," Pressel said.
For those who don't — the hopeful, jealous or the just plain resentful — there is plenty of fresh inspiration to finish ahead of Wie this week. If they can.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.