HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. — Midway through Michelle Wie’s round on Thursday at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, her coach, David Leadbetter, compared his student to a racing car. “The car is in the race,” said Leadbetter, “but it doesn’t feel like it’s going to win because it doesn’t have the power.”
Leadbetter wasn’t the first person to make analogies between Wie and auto racing this week. Of course, most of the others likened Wie to a wreck waiting to happen. Wie did not crash, but she didn’t make it through the first two days unscathed either. She shot 73 on Thursday and bogeyed the final hole on Friday to shoot 74. That put her three over for the tournament and in danger of missing the cut. (For updates, go to LPGA.com.)
It was just a week ago that Wie made her controversial withdrawal with just two holes left to play in the Ginn Tribute in Mount Pleasant, S.C., citing pain in her left wrist just as she was getting perilously close to shooting 88, the score that will get non-members booted from LPGA tournaments for the rest of the year.
Two days later, Wie, who had been at the Ginn on a sponsor’s exemption, compounded the resentment and confusion she had left in her wake by showing up at Bulle Rock to start practicing — something no LPGA member would be allowed to do so early. Annika Sorenstam, who hosted the Ginn, called Wie out on Tuesday, saying, “I just feel that there’s a little bit of a lack of respect and class just to kind of leave a tournament like that and then come out and practice here,” she said. “It just seemed really weird.”
Even LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens, who had been conspicuously unavailable during last week’s brouhaha, echoed that sentiment today. In a press conference shortly before Wie teed off, Bivens said, “I think that leaving the tournament and coming to practice when one had pulled out with a wrist injury was not very respectful.”
Word has it that Wie’s Monday Pro-Am partners complained about her, too. Wie added to her aura of thoughtlessness when she sat cross-legged in the middle of the fairway on one of the last holes as one her playing partners was getting ready to hit.
The prospect of Wie doing something outside the acceptable norms of golf had to explain some of the huge gallery that lined the fairway when she teed off on No. 10 as part of the last group on Thursday. What controversy would she stir today? Would she spray balls everywhere? Break a rule? Leave early?
That first tee shot sliced right, but Wie recovered well to make par on the hole, which set the tone for the day. There were no epic collapses, no bad behavior, no whispered conferences between Wie’s agent and Wie’s parents, BJ and Bo, and only one interaction with rules official Angus McKenzie. (After hitting three shots out of the rough on No. 15, Wie asked McKenzie if she could get a hand massage from her trainer on the course. He allowed it as long as it didn’t hold up play.)
There were a few errant shots, but by and large, Wie did a good job of getting out of trouble. The gallery cheered her on several occasions, and Wie waved in acknowledgement. It was all perfectly acceptable. Though she never took her driver out of the bag, she shot a 73. She seemed pleased with her play, saying it had “built my confidence.”
That had to bring some relief to Leadbetter, who admitted he had mixed feelings about Wie’s presence at Bulle Rock. While he said her left wrist seems better — “She’s not complaining about it as much as she did last week,” he said — he worried about Wie damaging the thing that’s most difficult to repair, her confidence.
“I don’t want this to make things worse,” he said, “Particularly, I don’t want it to affect her psyche. This is not ideal. She is not tournament-ready. But Michelle is very hard-headed. You don’t just say, ‘Michelle, you’re not playing.’ If she was 25 and had a little more experience, I don’t think she’d be playing this week.”
Wie’s insistence on playing this week has been costly. Maybe her psyche will survive after last week’s debacle, but it’s still too early to assess all the other damage done — particularly to her reputation and her relationship with the LPGA and its members.