Michelle Wie's lofty goals make her just the player the LPGA needs

Thursday May 14th, 2009
Michelle Wie hasn't won since the 2003 U.S. Women's Public Links.
Robert Beck/SI

CLIFTON, N.J. — Michelle Wie once compared her vagabond golfing existence to that of a freelance journalist, able to ply her trade at any port. Compete in Palm Springs against the women? Check. How about in South Korea against the men? Well, why not? Play in the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour? I mean, who wouldn't want to do that?

Wie packed a lifetime in those early teenage years, scooping up endorsements and smiling in front of the cameras, a transcendent star no matter what happened when she stuck a peg in the ground.

"I really don't regret anything that I have done," said Wie, 19, at the LPGA's Sybase Classic, where she will compete starting Thursday at Upper Montclair Country Club. "There's nothing I can do to change the past if I wanted to, so all I can do is focus on the future, focus on now. It's a new start."

Wie, it seems, has had a million new starts — caddies, management companies, even clothing styles. She has been held up as the future of women's golf and criticized for dabbling in the higher-profile and more lucrative men's game.

Though she has full-time status on the LPGA Tour after going through Qualifying School, Wie stands apart from her LPGA peers in so many ways. She was a household name before she was old enough to drive, beamed across the world on cable television and photographed for magazine covers.

"I don't think anything she did was wrong or right," said LPGA Tour winner Meaghan Francella. "It was just the decision she's made. I think she made a really good decision going to Q School and getting her card that way. Everybody is just different. Everybody goes about things a little differently."

Said Cristie Kerr, winner of last week's Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill: "I think from my perspective, it's great that she earned her way on and she wants to be a full-playing member of the LPGA Tour and wants to support us. She's an incredible asset to the Tour, very talented, a huge media draw, and we need that."

By going through Q School, Wie earned some respect from some peers who had seen her as taking shortcuts to stardom. The longer she ignored the more traditional route taken by other professional golfers — going through amateur competition, turning professional, going through Q School — the larger the gap between her and competitors grew.

"Obviously, going to Q School is not the easiest thing," said Wie, who attends Stanford and is still looking for her first victory since the 2003 U.S. Women's Public Links. "I think it was one of my proudest moments, going through first stage, then second stage and really earning my way onto the Tour. It's been a lot of fun this year. All the players have been really nice to me, and getting to play every week has been a lot of fun."

For a tour in need of buzz, there is no overstating how big a Wie victory would be. Lorena Ochoa, Kerr and so many others are brilliant players. Wie exists in a different realm, one created by early ambitions, expert marketing, off-the course controversies and, simply, the scope of her dreams.

One of her often stated goals has been to compete in the Masters, the tournament Wie remembers watching the most as a child. As farfetched as it seems, it's the kind of wish that keeps the cameras in front of Wie, snapping those pictures, waiting for all of the unknowns and mystery surrounding her to become clear.

"I always say 'dream high,'" Wie said in a sound bite any public relations official would love. "I'm not saying it's an easy goal to achieve. But it's one of those long-term goals where I see myself getting to."

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