Wiser Wie is on course to save the day
Maturing 19-year-old aims for Open win to give troubled women's game a vital boost
The last time Michelle Wie was here she was the sporting world's most famous teenybopper with $10m of endorsements and policemen and bodyguards flanking her every move. Three years on at the Ricoh Women's British Open and it is all so different. No security in sight.
"It just depends on the week and how many death threats I get," Wie said yesterday. "I guess there's only been a couple [of death threats] this week. So I'm not in that much danger."
Wie later claimed to be joking, although she did admit to having had "issues" with her personal safety. "I'm sure there were some that I didn't know about, but none directly to my face," she said, when pressed on whether she had received any death threats in the past. "You know, you always have to sign these forms in tournaments. Like, if you receive a death threat do you want to be informed or not. And I'm like, no, I don't want to know. I'm still alive, I'm still breathing..."
Wie has been doing rather more than that so far here this week as she prepared for today's first round. In fact, when Wie strolled off the practice green yesterday and signed autographs and posed for pictures she actually seemed to be enjoying herself. So what has changed? Does embarrassing underachievement have its benefits? Or is Wie the 19-year-old that bit more secure?
Questions, questions, questions... put-downs, put-downs, put-downs... it is all Wie has heard since she arrived in this seaside town in 2006 still being described as "the female Tiger Woods". Only Tiger could command the same level of attention; indeed, only Tiger receives regular death threats. Yet it did not happen anything like as billed for Wie. And that week on this Lancashire links we had another insight why.
When Wie was asked yesterday what she recalls of her second British Open (sensationally she had finished third as an amateur in her first), Wie let out a giggle and said: "Well, I remember those bunkers." But in Wie's case one particular trap sticks in all our of minds. It was the second round and on the 14th hole, the BBC cameras caught Wie quite clearly contravening Rule 13-4, which prohibits a player from touching a loose impediment in a hazard before the completion of their backswing. Wie was aware she had hit the piece of moss, but not aware she should incur a two-shot penalty and but for being advised by officials she would have signed for the wrong score and been disqualified. "I guess I got the rule wrong," said Wie afterwards, before being asked whether she was off to bury her head in the rulebook. "It doesn't make very interesting reading," she replied. As she said it the entourage around her all laughed at the sweet, naive humour. Fair enough, but the incident said so much. Badly handled, badly advised, badly prepared; Wie was still anything but a serious professional.
Fast forward 36 controversial months and Wie at least seems to be moving in the right direction. She claims her left wrist at last to be healed and has a new management company, who plainly have her best interests at heart. Blessedly, the Hawaiian has yet to play – and so be humiliated – in a men's event in 2009 and the word is she will refrain from doing so in the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, she is not flitting on and off the women's tour like some sort of superstar diva. Wie actually took her place in the Tour school at the start of the season and "earned" her LPGA card. In her first event, Wie finished second. Six months later she has still to record her first professional victory but is in the top 20 on the American money list and gunning for a spot in next month's Solheim Cup, the female version of the Ryder Cup. To that end she must win here or rely on a wildcard when the teams are announced on Sunday evening. Here could be one invite she may actually deserve. "I have one tournament left and if I play well it will take care of itself," she said.
How women's golf could do with a Wie win in this, her last major as a teenager. Sponsors have been lost, tournaments scrapped and there is a palpable panic among the players. With Annika Sorenstam now retired, the game is desperate for a name that transcends their fairways and Wie still, quite clearly, has the fame to do so. "I'm just trying hard to work on my game and become the player that I want to be and that everyone wants me to be," she said. Not least the bodyguards in the Lytham area. Evidently, they could do with the employment.
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