Wie flies feminist flag as she drives the teenage bandwagon
Young generation flex their muscles but Sorenstam proves she is still the golfer to beat
Sunday 31 July 2005
The cheerleader in the clubhouse, of course, is Michelle Wie who is only 15 and is joined by Carlotta Ciganda, a European champion from Spain who is an even younger 15-year-old. They are about three Harry Potter books behind Paula Creamer, an American, who has so much confidence she can spell the word backwards.
When Creamer (the crop?) was 17 last season she won the US qualifying school and set about achieving a number of goals. She has hit the net more consistently than Artmedia Bratislava.
Last week Creamer won the Evian Masters, becoming the youngest player to win a European Tour event and, added to her maiden victory in a tournament in the Big Apple, she is a cert for the Rookie of the Year title and probably a place in America's Solheim Cup team.
If you are thinking of putting your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington, think again. Creamer, in the space of 11 months, has become a dollar millionaire, just like that, and, as the Carpenters would say, she's only just begun.
Creamer is younger than the other teenagers who have been competing here, Aree Song, Bo Bae Song and Brittany Lincicome, but is some way down life's fairway compared to both Ciganda and Wie.
Wie, from Hawaii, is being globally marketed in the women's game as a cub version of Tiger Woods. Like Tiger she drives the ball miles and this, almost more than anything else, appeals to the ad men, the spectators, television and anything else you can think of. Her short game, however, is vulnerable, particularly her putting. At six feet and in a black Nike top she looks every inch the part. Can she play? Oh yes.
She was second to Creamer in the Evian and runner-up to Sorenstam in the LPGA Championship although on neither occasion was she breathing down their necks. She led after three rounds of the US Women's Open but disappeared from the leaderboard with an 82, providing further ammunition for her detractors.
Creamer has got to the top by graduating through college where she won a heap of events in the American Junior Golf Association. On the other hand does Wie know what it is like to experience the tickle-under-the-arm feeling of actually lifting a trophy? Not yet but the people who run the dream factory say it is only a matter of time.
Because of the empty cupboard, the poor girl has been hit by a bandwagon, steered by Woods and Sorenstam, that has so many passengers there is no room on top. Woods and Sorenstam, who have been known to practise together, say that Wie would be better off competing against girls of her own age.
Wie will not play ball: "I want to make a statement to all women that there are no limitations. If I can drive the ball 300 yards, if I can compete against the men, if I can make it to the Masters, then maybe I can inspire them to break free in their own lives."
Louise Stahle, a young Swede who, like so many other talented players, has honed her golf at Arizona State University while fading or drawing past the cacti, shot 65 in the second round here at Royal Birkdale and will turn professional tomorrow when she returns to her home country. She will not be in Sweden for long.
America beckons, and her fellow Swede Sorenstam has pointed the way by amassing more than $17m (£9.7m) during the course of an extraordinary career. Stahle, asked what degree she was studying for, replied: "I wasn't really... I was playing golf."
Wie, officially at least, has no earnings. After Birkdale, where her father B J Wie has been carrying her bag, she returns to school, not the qualifying school but the sort of establishment where children learn a basic education.
"Hi Michelle, what have you been up to?" "Well, I've been travelling the world and if I'd been a pro I'd have picked up pocket money of half-a-million. I've just come from a place called Birkdale where the weather was dreadful. I've played in the wind before, I've played in the rain and I've played in the cold but never all together. I'm glad I missed the hurricane season."
For Wie, a suffragette in waiting, the die appears to be cast. On 11 October, when she is sweet 16, her postman will ring twice. This is when she is expected to turn professional and she will receive as many contracts as cards, not to mention invitation to men's events on the PGA Tour as well as competing against the best of her sex on the LPGA.
The hype has the sponsors queuing up and not many 16-year-olds get to cut a tape which is worth $20m.
Where there's a will there's a Wie. She says she wants to study business and follow in the footsteps of Tiger by attending Stanford University. For a role model she only has to look in the mirror. Business and golf go hand in glove.
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