Wie looks to make major mark while Davies hits out at 'jealous' critics of teenage prodigy
Wednesday 02 August 2006
Not since Lady Jane Grey has a 16-year-old girl been so enthusiastically hauled on to a British platform and told to defend her regal standing, as here in the media centre of the Women's British Open yesterday.
Somewhat fortunately for Michelle Wie, though, her knowledge of Tudor history probably does not run deep enough to know all about "The Nine Day Queen" and so recognise the irony that just up the road from this majestic links, Blackpool boasts an infamous tower all of its own. But the schoolgirl is aware of the word "execution" and all that it means.
"Wie can't win," has been the chant from the ever-growing army of doubters who have christened her "The Three Day Queen", such is her habit of looking all over the winner until the final day of competition when she, yes, fails to execute.
Last weekend, the Hawaiian finished in a tie for second in Evian-Les-Bains at the by now traditional curtain-raiser for this major championship and, alas, extended a trend that has blighted her rapid progress to the forefront of the golfing consciousness.
For despite having so many historic firsts next to her name - the first female in half a century to make a cut in a fully fledged male tournament; the first female to advance to final qualifying of the men's US Open; the first female to pocket £6m in endorsements when signing up for the pro ranks last autumn - in the columns that some maintain only matter, she does not have a first next to her name. The last event she won was the US Women's Amateur Public Links. That was in 2003. She was 13.
Since then there have been more near misses than your average Montgomerie. And just as many taunts.
"Well obviously it's very frustrating," she said as yesterday's inquisition started. "Right after you finish playing, it's like 'oh my God, I was close again'. But if you look at the overall year, this is the best I've ever played. Sure, I wish I could have won a couple of times, but at least I'm not winning one event and then missing the cut in another. I'm consistently up there. A win is coming. I'm ready for it."
The stats certainly back her up, even if so many of her rivals - both male and female - find themselves unable to. Wie is the only player - again, both female and male - to finish in the top five of the three majors held so far this season and when one considers that she has four top-threes in the last six majors and that her age precludes her from being a member of the American women's tour, her results have indeed been startling.
Even Annika Sorenstam does not have a dollar-per-tournament ratio as high as Wie's. In her six female tournaments in 2006, she boasts an average cheque of almost £70,000. Her scoring average of 70.11 has only been bettered by Sorenstam and the brilliant Mexican Lorena Ochoa, but as her rounds have mostly been compiled at the much harder major venues, her progress is fairly obvious. Although not to all.
Nancy Lopez and Dottie Pepper, the American legends, have recently been merely repeating the criticisms of Wie continuing to accept sponsors' invitations on the PGA Tour when "it's impossible to win against the men". Meanwhile, Se Ri Pak, the multiple major winner from South Korea, got personal when accusing Wie of surliness for not uttering two words to her in the recent Women's World Match Play.
Naturally, the teenager, herself, plays the "Do I look bovvered?" card. "You need some gossip - it makes the world interesting," she said. "It's my expectations that count. I don't really care what people say about me or my game. Everyone is going to have their opinions - I have mine of everyone else. I get frustrated because I expect myself to win."
Laura Davies is at least one colleague willing to say "go girl" to that; yesterday labelling those who are getting at Wie as "either crackers or jealous". No wonder Wie was all smiles then when she was drawn alongside the first lady of British golf for tomorrow's first round to cement the friendship laid in the last round in France last week. "Laura's remarkable," said Wie. "I love playing with her. She's pretty cool."
Such expressions, of course, should only remind everybody of her youth and, even if they did not, then yesterday's practice round surely must. Pleased to arrive at Lytham and discover fairways not nearly as burnt as those at Hoylake for the men's Open Championship two weeks ago, Wie played 16 and a half holes before running for the clubhouse.
"I was hungry," she revealed. "Eating is very important to me." As, unarguably, is winning. Royal Lytham, if not all the game, is praying that this week the phenomenon at last proves how much.
Wie's second helpings
She may still be awaiting her first win as a professional, but Michelle Wie has four second-place finishes to her name
Hawaii (Feb 2005)
Winner Jennifer Rosales (Phil) 208 66 69 73;
Runner-up Wie 210 70 70 70
Havre de Grace, Maryland, US (June 2005)
Winner Annika Sorenstam (Swe) 277 68 67 69 73;
Runner-up Wie 280 69 71 71 69
Evian-les-Bains, France (July 2005)
Winner Paula Creamer (US) 273 68 68 66 71;
Runner-up Wie 281 75 70 68 68
Evian-les-Bains (July 2006)
Winner Karrie Webb (Aus) 272 67 68 69 68;
Runner-up Wie 273 69 66 70 68
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