LA Daily News – Jun 28, 2006 – Jill Painter – Michelle Wie will play in the U.S. Women’s Open at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island this week, but unfortunately, not everyone is happy about it.
There are grumblings on the LPGA Tour that because Wie is playing in men’s events around the world, she’s diminishing the quality of the women’s tournaments she decides to play in.
It’s ludicrous thinking.
Wie is an absolute marvel to watch, whether she’s playing an international event, men’s event or women’s event. She brings fans. She brings excitement.
Most of all, she brings publicity to the sport. The LPGA can use it.
The LPGA’s star, Annika Sorenstam, is a great person and golfer, but people aren’t standing in eight-person deep galleries to watch her. She’s just not that emotional on the course. I like Karrie Webb and all and think she’s a great talent, too. But she doesn’t have that X-factor – as American Idol’s Simon Cowell would say – that Wie possesses.
Remember when former LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw encouraged female golfers to wear fun, fashionable, sexy attire a few years ago to increase the popularity of the sport? The LPGA Tour was losing sponsors and tour dates and was in danger of not generating enough TV ratings, fans and money.
Wie doesn’t need a short skirt to attract attention. Her mesmerizing shots off the tee are incredible. She’s a skinny teenager with dangly earrings. She pouts just like any 16-year-old when she misses putts. And she’s considered by some to be the next Tiger Woods.
Some LPGA players think she needs to either join the tour or go through qualifiers to play in this tournament. But Wie is an amazing ambassador for the LPGA Tour.
The LPGA should welcome her when she plays. Anything else is petty.
“I agree. Wie’s success is the LPGA’s success,” John. F. Murray, a renowned sports psychologist, said in an e-mail. “I think people grasp that. But the fear of Wie is probably real on the LPGA Tour. And there are always people who are threatened by change and find every reason in the world to cling to tradition.”
When Wie played in a men’s U.S. Open qualifier recently at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., workers stopped letting folks in at the gate because the course couldn’t handle that many spectators. Like at a hot nightclub, fans could only enter when someone left.
And people want Wie to stay away?
Some of the men on the PGA Tour don’t want her out there either, although the complaints are starting to die down. If not for a horrendous day of putting, Wie could have qualified for the men’s U.S. Open. She can play with anyone.
“If we took a poll, I would guess that most people find it quite interesting and exciting and there’s a percentage that find it absolutely horrendous,” Murray said. “Imagine what would happen if she were to win one of those men’s events. It might cause a revolution. You can bet your bottom dollar that everyone in the country would be watching that final round with Michelle Wie in the lead by two strokes.”
It would be great for the game of golf.
Wie has yet to win on the LPGA Tour, but she could change that at the U.S. Women’s Open. It’s not the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, but it is a major, and Wie wants to win.
She doesn’t feel a burden to singlehandedly improve ratings for the tour. But she can certainly help, and her peers should embrace that.
“No, I don’t think it is my responsibility,” Wie said at the LPGA Championship. “It’s what I want to do. My goal is to win an LPGA tournament. And to be able to win, you actually have to play in some tournaments.”
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.