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PGA Tour Confidential: Michelle Wie's Debut

Michelle Wie, SBS Open at Turtle Bay
Robert Beck/SI
Michelle Wie lost a three-shot lead on the back nine Saturday to lose the SBS Open to Angela Stanford.

Every week of the 2009 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome back, earthlings, for another installment of Tour Confidential, where we pass the giblets weekly on what's happening in golf.

The story of the week was Michelle Wie's debut as a member of the LPGA. She lost to Angela Stanford in a final-round duel at the SBS Open, which the Golf Channel tried to paint as an Angela charge. (She did fire three straight birdies in high winds.) But Wie looked like a 19-year-old rookie, making half a dozen mistakes in the final round to lose a three-shot lead with eight holes to play.

So, let's reconvene the debate on whether Wie can be a savior for the LPGA, and will she? (Those are two different questions.) I'll start the can-she answers by saying yes. She is the most recognizable name and face on the tour. Her parents brilliantly marketed her into a name player, worth millions, but it came at the expense of her game. When she should have been learning how to win, how to play with a lead on the final nine against her peers in junior and amateur golf, she was grandstanding against professional men.

She is on the upswing, yes, but I don't sense that her game is as big as we once thought it was. And anyone would have a tough time winning with regularity against a flock of young talent that includes Lorena Ochoa, Ji-Yai Shin (who may well surpass Lorena), Ai Miyazato, Yani Tseng and others. She still has a ways to go before she's a polished player.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I agree with Vans about the SBS coverage. Golf Channel fell all over itself trying not to say Michelle coughed it up. This never happened to Tiger, did it?

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I think Wie will win at least twice this year and blow another three or four chances, due primarily to inexperience. Sadly, her body and swing have outpaced her golf I.Q. She won't become a consistent player until she figures out how to play the game. She's got all the shots, but she doesn't always know when to use them. Leadbetter and company should step back and let her learn the ropes. She's got everything else.

Van Sickle: I like Farrell's points. Her inexperience showed Sunday. She blew two 3-wood shots to the right, into trouble, and probably didn't choose the optimum place to take a drop after one of them, which led to her double. Trailing by three on the par-5 18th that Golf Channel announcers said she might be able to reach in two, Wie inexplicably played it safe and hit 3-wood instead of driver, thus eliminating any hope of making the eagle that she needed. As Brandel Chamblee said in the Golf Channel studio, "If you've got a gun, shoot it."

The LPGA could really use Wie or some other American player to step forward and help carry the game. Only four Americans are among the top 20 in the Rolex world rankings. That's Paula Creamer, No. 3; Cristie Kerr, No. 7; Angela Stanford, No. 8, and Morgan Pressel, No. 19.

Two wildcards to consider about Wie. First, she's been around since she was 12, but she's only 19. In five years, she'll be a much better player and only 24. She could dominate if she gains the necessary experience, continues to improve and doesn't O.D. on being a media star.

Second, she's the only player I can think of who has ever tried to play tour golf as a professional while attending college. (And it's Stanford, not Phys. Ed Major U.) College will make her a well-rounded person, but in the short term, it's not helping her play on the LPGA.

Friedman: Is Angela Stanford the new sheriff in town, or is this just a hot streak?

Evans: Of course not. She's a solid player who showed that she can control her ball under some pretty windy conditions, but if she's a world beater then the LPGA Tour is in trouble.

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Stanford is for real. When a player can pick up right where he/she left off the year before, you know the good play is more than a streak.

Van Sickle: Lorena Ochoa still has to be the unquestioned top gun in women's golf until Stanford or someone else starts beating her like a drum. I know some observers think Yani Tseng is a serious contender for the crown, and Angela Park is a sweet ballstriker, but I'd put my money on Korea's Ji-Yai Shin to reach No. 1 before Stanford. It's hard to argue with Shin's 20 wins in the last two seasons, which included a major.

Evans: Commissioner Carolyn Bivens sounded almost somber in her announcement about the LPGA's new 10-year TV deal with the Golf Channel.

Van Sickle: The LPGA may be in trouble for reasons other than that. How about the tour dumping SBS as an international broadcast partner to go with an unestablished rival? The SBS head was livid that he didn't get a chance to negotiate against his rival's bid, and SBS is now out as sponsor of this Hawaiian event. Even more incredible, the Golf Channel crew didn't so much as make a mention of this, certainly not during a scripted "interview" (or should I say commercial) with an SBS official. The only guy with the guts to say anything was Mark Rolfing, who cryptically signed off the Saturday telecast by saying he hoped the LPGA would be back in Hawaii with another tournament next year.

SBS is out because the LPGA booted them, and now the SBS Open is a goner. Golf Channel is in bed with these tours and cannot legitimately report the news — what a shame.

Friedman: This deal strikes me as a win-win for both parties. It gives the channel several hours of reliable, if not necessarily splashy, programming each week. Kind of the same reason NBC booked Jay Leno for every night in prime time next season.

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