PGA Tour Confidential: Michelle Wie's First Win

PGA Tour Confidential: Michelle Wie’s First Win

Michelle Wie won her first pro tournament Sunday at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
Miguel Tovar/AP

After this week’s installment, PGA Tour Confidential will take a few weeks off. Check back regularly, however, because we will convene the roundtable as the news requires. For an archive of the series, go here.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Greetings all. We’re lucky to have esteemed course designer Tom Doak among our panel of dimpleheads this week. We are also blessed with a ton of news to talk about. (Isn’t this supposed to be the off-season?)

In addition to Tiger’s win in Australia, Michelle Wie finally broke through on the LPGA, making a birdie on 18 to win the Lorena Ochoa Invitational at Guadalajara C.C. Does this portend a new era? Will Wie now run off a string of Ws the way David Duval did when he finally closed the deal?

Tom Doak: Does the LPGA even have five events in a row to win next year?

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Greetings to Tom, who once put up with me carrying his clubs for 18 holes at Sebonack. I can’t think of a bigger story than Wie winning on the LPGA Tour. Right or wrong, she could mean as much for that Tour as Tiger does for the PGA Tour, though in miniature. In some ways, it’s too bad it happened in such a busy sports calendar, with the NFL in full roar.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Wie was obviously due to win a tournament, and she did it in fine fashion. Now we only have to hope that she can have that Tiger-like effect on the LPGA Tour.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Shipnuck has been predicting that Wie would win before the end of the year. In fact, I believe he said she would win out or somesuch.

Doak: To me, nothing is more important to the growth of golf than the success of the LPGA Tour. We’re not likely to pick up more participation among men. Women are the growth market. And women might be more likely to bring their kids, which is the real point.

Herre: Tom, couldn’t agree more. Getting women to play, and retaining them as players, is the Holy Grail.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: My wife is a typical woman golfer, and she has zero interest in the LPGA. She wants to watch Tiger, Phil, Vijay, etc.

Evans: More women golfers won’t mean greater success for the LPGA Tour. The girls like watching the guys. It’s a fact.

Herre: But some guys like watching certain girls. It’s the law of nature.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: More women golfers might mean more identification with the best women golfers. Or so I keep telling my daughter as I try to get to her to take up the game.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: At LPGA events, I see far more women in the galleries than I do at men’s events, on a percentage basis, at least.

Doak: Girls need role models, too. How many more of them started playing soccer after the success of the U.S. women’s team? Annika got a lot of girls to take up the game — in Sweden, where they paid more attention to what she was doing. If Michelle Wie starts winning, there will be more TV coverage and more attention and more girls interested in the game. (Not the women, though. They would rather watch Villegas.)

Anne Szeker, producer, The success of the U.S. women’s team has done a lot for women’s soccer, but it hasn’t led to enough fan support to sustain a women’s soccer league. Wie’s win is great for the game in general, and if she continues to win, she will inspire young girls. (Who will someday be the women who bring their children to the course.) The LPGA, though, will need more than Wie to find continued success in the mainstream.

Doak: That’s just it. I don’t want more women playing golf to make the Tour successful. I want the LPGA Tour to be more successful so that more women will want to play golf. For the health of the sport, participation trumps the Tours.

David Dusek, deputy editor, I think this may be one of the most important wins in the history of women’s golf. Michelle Wie’s potential to bring more attention to the LPGA Tour, to attract more viewers on TV and to inspire more girls and women to start playing golf is huge. With the LPGA Tour needing positive news going into 2010, and needing to attract more sponsors, this is gigantic.

Evans: At LPGA Tour events you see avid women golfers, but not the average sports fan who might attend a PGA Tour event with her husband or girlfriends to see Tiger or Phil. The LPGA would probably say its numbers are fine for women spectators. But the most important people haven’t been convinced: potential sponsors who might want to sell a product to women. Viagra and Cialis have spent tens of millions in golf and other sports because they know they can reach men.

Morfit: Now to Kingston Heath, site of the Australian Masters and Tiger Woods’s hysteria-generating appearance and victory. Yeah, Tiger got $3 million for showing up, but Steve Williams said Woods ought to check out Kingston Heath since TW is a budding course designer. For those who have never played this “sandbelt gem” or any other course in Australia, is this the type of more natural looking course that Woods and others ought to be emulating? What is it about the place that makes it great?

Doak: Kingston Heath is an amazing course, and the kind every golf course designer SHOULD study. (In fact, there are a bunch of architects down there this week and next on a tour.) I went to Melbourne for two weeks when I was 25 and learned a lot about building bunkers and also about blending the course back into the natural terrain.

Herre: The bunkering is certainly interesting, like something you’d see in Britain. I’d hate to get caught up against the face of them.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: The bunkers were cool. Also, thought it was interesting that the fairways looked very green, but the greens looked pretty brown.

Morfit: Those greens looked like trying to putt the hood of a VW.

Bamberger: The game is all about the course. Old-school courses, whether designed by Mackenzie or Doak, make the game more interesting. Watching Tiger on a firm, well-trapped course really adds to the pleasure for me.

Lipsey: Tom, what’s the closest to Heath in the U.S.?

Doak: The course I compare Kingston Heath to is Merion. It’s very compact, and fairly flat, but full of golf. Playing conditions are much different, though — wider fairways, faster surface.

Bamberger: To my eye, the beauty of Merion is the uneven lies and the sloping nature of the whole place. It can give you a headache it makes you think so much.

Lipsey: Would US. developers/owners ever go en masse for Kingston Heath-style layouts? Or is green — as in lush — too popular?

Doak: Hard to imagine many developers in the U.S. going for a course like Kingston Heath. It’s so compact that there is not much room for surrounding real estate or excess length.

Bamberger: The shame of the Masters, great event that it is, is that it’s given many people the wrong idea about what a course should look like. Walton Heath and Huntington Valley and other places have the right idea.

Doak: Too much attention is paid to the high-end courses we see on TV. A lot of smaller courses are very environmentally oriented. The reason American courses haven’t been so green is because we’ve had too much money to spend on manicuring courses, as opposed to maintaining them.

Herre: That’s a fine point, Tom. Not sure I understand the difference between manicuring and maintaining.

Evans: Manicured is perfect. Maintained is un-diseased and lush in a natural way, much like a beautiful woman vs. one that’s had a lot of plastic surgery. It’s OK to have a few bad spots here and there.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I can see brown gaining popularity in the U.S. for one big reason — saving money. Too many courses built in the last 20 years have been high-maintenance, slow-play courses designed to look spectacular and sell real estate. Golf needs low-maintenance, fast-play courses.

Lipsey: Like Shipnuck’s secret joy of riding carts, I have to say, I’ll go for a lush lie in a fairway any day over roughewn stuff like the Heath, although once in a while such a track would be awesome. (Now Cape Kidnappers, Tom, would be heaven to play every day.)

Bamberger: I’m just the opposite. I love it when you can dribble a basketball on a fairway or green.

Doak: Cape Kidnappers wasn’t heaven in the first round of the Kiwi Challenge last week. The wind started blowing 50 miles per hour and they suspended play on the 16th hole after Hunter Mahan hit his drive 208 yards. But the wind pretty much laid down for them for the second round.

Herre: Rick, I think it’s easier to hit a crisp iron shot off a dry fairway because you can trap the ball without the danger of grass coming between club and ball. Would imagine that “pickers” of the ball would have more trouble off an ultra-tight lie.

Lipsey: For precision iron players like you, Jim, perhaps, but there’s a reason good footwedgers roll there balls onto fluffy lies. I’ll take the teed-up fairway ball every day.

Morfit: Is golf now officially part of the green movement? This week’s My Shot in Sports Illustrated will extol the virtues of Scott Anderson’s Huntington Valley C.C. outside Philadelphia, which uses less water and less fertilizer and generally gets away from that blindingly green, mega-manicured look we’ve grown used to.

Doak: Golf in the rest of the world has always been part of the green movement, just not in the U.S. It’s a shame to think that it took financial pressures to move us in that direction.

Friedman: Maybe the current economic troubles will allow us to rethink and reinvent, in golf as in other areas of society, much as the Depression gave us many courses that are now classics. You wish it didn’t have to come out of such wrenching hardship, of course.

Gorant: In the words of Rahm Emanuel, never let a good crisis go to waste.

Lipsey: Did Tiger have an ulterior motive Down Under? Jack never went anywhere without a course design project in the works. Yes, Tiger got $3 million just for showing up, but he doesn’t need the money.

Herre: He’s a global brand. He needs to get out of the neighborhood from time to time.

Hack: Why would Tiger travel to Australia? Because he can fly private, play some golf, win a tournament, grow his brand, take home $3 million, and fly back private. Sounds like a nice week to me.

Doak: I travel every other week for a lot less than that.

Van Sickle: The $3 million appearance fee was probably the tip of the iceberg. He may have generated more deals and endorsements just by going, just like he landed that $20 million course design deal from playing in Dubai.

Doak: There are not so many $20 million design deals out there this fall, I can assure you.

Van Sickle: Right. I don’t mean more course designs. I’m thinking more about endorsements and commercials. (Of course, those probably aren’t $20 million anymore either.) But Tiger doesn’t have a car sponsor at the moment, so that’s available for bidding. Any Chinese carmakers interested?

Lipsey: Tom, what’s the biggest design deal you’ve ever heard of? Tiger in Dubai? What’s the second biggest?

Doak: Apart from Tiger’s deals, where the fees are all rumors, the biggest design deal I’ve heard of is Tom Fazio getting $5 million to design a course in Korea for Samsung.

Morfit: It should be noted that, a decade after owning the game, David Duval missed the cut at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney and finished outside the top 125 on the money list. He’s Q-school bound, as is Todd Hamilton, although Rich Beem did just enough to squeak above the cutoff. Did this make for compelling theater for anybody, or was it more interesting to watch Stephen Ames fire a final-round 64 and then get kindly assists from Justin Leonard and George McNeill in the two-hole playoff?

Friedman: To me, the action at the top, with the Ames win and Justin Time (Leonard and Rose), proved more compelling.

Lipsey: That might be because Golf Channel didn’t do much with the unfolding top 125 drama. ESPN or NBC would’ve brought the drama to life.

Bamberger: I like that struggle-to-survive stuff, the obsession with the number 125, granting you the right to keep doing the thing you most want to be doing.

Gorant: Blah, faux drama. The guy who finishes 126 is still going play 15 to 18 times next year. Also, I did some research earlier in the week. Of the last 11 guys who finished 125 on the list, only three kept their cards the following year. So even the guys who hang on to that last spot are usually just borrowing time.

Dusek: This is such an under-reported part of the story. So David Duval and a few other veterans dropped below the 125 spot and may go to Q school. So what? Guys like Duval, Jeff Maggert and Tim Herron will have plenty of chances to play in 2010.

Herre: It’s really tough for TV to tell the money-list story as it’s unwinding live, but it is a rich one, the kind that can come to life in print with a bit of reflection and reporting.

Friedman: I don’t know, Jim. Detail your reporters to be with as many bubble boys as will participate. A couple did, and their (admittedly) nervous babbling was very compelling!

Herre: Yes, but oftentimes there is a key shot or moment that goes unrecognized by everyone but the player. TV can do the quick once-over, but the player needs time to reflect, and the writer needs time to identify and report to produce a truly compelling story.

Friedman: I’m going to have you be the guest speaker on a task force I’m on. Mission: Debunking the notion that print is dead!

Van Sickle: For sheer entertainment, not much beat watching the Tour computers in the pressroom that were displaying the projected money list. Guys were bouncing above and below the 125 line — even guys like Flesch, Garrigus and Thatcher who had missed the cut. It was much like the FedEx Cup points race. A wild rollercoaster, even though not much changed in the end.

Friedman: Golf Channel’s not picking up the Ochoa tournament live and instead showing its coverage on tape-delay was a real missed opportunity. (Of course, there may have been contractual reasons why they proceeded this way.) Would have been cool to alternate between the Ochoa tournament and the Children’s Miracle playoff, keeping things live, until they could go full time to the LPGA for Michelle’s win as it happened.

Gorant: I was dying for Disney to end so they would switch to the LPGA. That putt to win on the 72nd hole was the first time I ever rooted for Justin Leonard. And that included Brookline.

Morfit: I totally agree that it should have been live. Wie’s victory was bigger than anything that happened in Mouseville.

Doak: Just another example of how the business of golf often trumps what’s good for golf in today’s world.

Morfit: Speaking of what’s good for golf, what about drug testing? Doug Barron sued the PGA Tour last Thursday and we learned that he tested positive last June for testosterone and the beta-blocker Propranolol. According to Barron’s complaint, he was taking both drugs for legitimate medical reasons but was denied therapeutic use exemptions by the Tour. Does anybody believe that Barron, whom the Tour suspended for one year on Nov. 2, was trying to gain an advantage on the competition? Does this case have the potential to make the Tour look as bad as the Casey Martin case?

Doak: No way they’ll let this get as far as the Casey Martin case, is there? He’ll appeal, they’ll rule on the appeal, and he’ll probably get it overturned if the story is as it sounds right now. But, there’s no players’ association on the Tour, is there? In some ways, the players ARE the Tour, but they are also all competing against each other.

Morfit: That’s a great point about there being no players’ association. I remember when the drug-testing thing was first being talked about, and Tour pros were grumbling that the first guy to test positive was going to be left to fight it all by his lonesome. There’s no Donald Fehr to do the fighting.

Herre: The watchdog groups seem to think the Tour is on solid ground, but Barron is such a marginal player it’s hard not to feel sympathetic. If he’s not allowed to play he will be viewed as damaged goods and his career, such as it is, could be over. I want to know a lot more about why the Tour did not allow him to use prescribed drugs.

Bamberger: Jim, you can get a friendly doctor to prescribe anything. That doesn’t mean the Tour is going to buy the explanation.

Herre: So you’re guilty until proven innocent?

Van Sickle: Who’s on the board that made the decision to deny Barron, and why did they do it? Those are questions that need answers.

Evans: Doug Barron wasn’t trying to get an advantage. He was simply trying to survive on the Tour. Sadly, in an effort to legitimize itself, the PGA Tour might be taking an irrational stance on drug testing. They need a case-by-case method for determining penalties.

Bamberger: I don’t see how it gets overturned. He used drugs on the banned list without an exemption. He surely made his case to the Tour before it went public. The Tour has the right to draft such bylaws. I don’t see the Tour losing in court on this or letting Barron slide. No way.

Hack: Seems to me the Tour asked Doug to discontinue taking the medicine and he didn’t stop using it in time. Even if his intentions were good (dealing with anxiety or low testosterone), shouldn’t he have alerted the Tour beforehand? What did he think would happen once he took the test?

Friedman: If the ruling stands, might this radicalize the rank and file enough to begin thinking about a union?

Morfit: It could generate some momentum in that direction, yes. Barron is on an island here, and when you read the players’ quotes from the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, you could detect some sympathy.

Herre: The Tour will never have a union. Can you imagine the players, who are almost 100% Republican, voting for one? Not gonna happen.

Hack: Now that Duval lost his card, I think it’s 100% Republican

Doak: How important is it that the Tour’s first publicized positive test was someone who is a marginal player? They make an example of him and warn everybody how serious they are, without involving someone who’s bigger news (and who can afford to fight it).

Herre: That’s it, Tom. Whatever the facts of the case, it looks like the Tour is picking on the little guy.

Bamberger: I think the Tour is nervous about beta-blockers. People want to say they aren’t an issue because Nick Price tried them and found they didn’t help his putting, but that’s naive. There will certainly be some golfers who can calm their nerves and make a better stroke with Beta-blockers, and that would be a true PED.

Morfit: The problem, though, is that Barron has long had anxiety attacks brought on by a heart condition, and thus the need for beta-blockers. What’s really unclear in this case is why he was denied the temporary use exemption. Shaun Micheel had to fly from Memphis to Baltimore (Johns Hopkins) and Atlanta (Emory) on his own dime to see two of the Tour’s hand-picked specialists before he was given his TUE for testosterone cream. It took four agonizing months, but at least he got it.

Bamberger: As Tom Doak says, the players are the Tour. When you join the Tour, you sign on to rules established by the players themselves. In baseball the commissioner (in theory) works for the owners, the fans and the players. Finchem works for the players. Now he has a more global view — what’s good for the Tour is good for the players — but he works for the players.

Morfit: I’ve always viewed that old “the commissioner works for the players” line with a healthy dose of skepticism. I’d say he works for Tiger. He works for Phil. Not so sure he really works for Doug Barron.

Bamberger: Don’t agree. Look at the makeup of the committees that shape Tour policies — many regular Joe tour players.

Van Sickle: The commissioner works for the bureaucracy that is the Tour. As long as the players are well taken care of — with FedEx bonus money that pays out all the way to 125th place, for example — the players go along like sheep with what the Tour does. And if they don’t go along like sheep, they get outvoted by the policy board, 5-4, and lose anyway.