Monday, February 25, 2013

How Far Has Michelle Wie Fallen? This Far

Michelle Wie has fallen so far that she is back to needing a sponsor exemption to get into an LPGA tournament.

Back when she was young - say, 14, 15, 16 years old - Wie could have any sponsor exemption she wanted. She was an incredible talent, and a huge, huge draw, not just in women's golf but in golf in general. She needed sponsor exemptions because she wasn't yet an LPGA member.

But this week Wie needed an invitation from the sponsor to get into the field at the HSBC Women's Champions tournament in Singapore because she's fallen so far on the money list and in the world rankings.

Granted, the HSBC is not a full-field tournament, so it's not as bad as it first sounds. But it's still pretty disconcerting for any Wie fans, and probably for Wie herself, that she's back in this position.

And for how much longer will it still be easy for Wie to get sponsor exemptions? Wie is still one of the first few golfers trotted out by tournament organizers to promote an event. Will that continue for much longer if Wie's game doesn't perk back up?

After beginning the 2013 season with a missed cut followed by a 45th-place showing, Wie is now No. 73 in the world rankings. That's not awful - it's better than, for example, Vicky Hurst, Maria Hjorth, Sophie Gustafson and Natalie Gulbis, to name just a few - but it's so far away from where everyone thought Wie would be. And Wie is on a downward track.

Wie hasn't had a Top 10 finish since last August, but has had four missed cuts in that time frame. She had only one Top 10 in all of 2012, vs. 10 missed cuts. She fell to 64th on the money list.

You could write books about Wie's predicament, but please don't give me that song about how things would be so much different if only Wie had done things the right way. Professional golf is littered with the corpses of careers of golfers who did things "the right way."

Meanwhile, in European and Asian golf, young women (and men) golf phenoms routinely do things "the wrong way" (meaning, forego amateur golf to cash in at a young age), and some of them go on to be major stars. Many of them don't - because most golfers who turn pro fail to become stars. Nearly all of them, in fact.

Wie could have done everything "the right way" - whatever your definition of that happens to be - and wound up in exactly the same place. And maybe, had she not suffered serious injuries to both wrists when she was 17, Wie would be the superstar right now everyone thought she'd become. There's simply no way to know, and it's a mug's game trying to pretend otherwise.

(One thing I do know is this: By traveling the path she did, Wie became very rich very young, and if she's played her cards right financially is set for life.)

Wie might still become a frequent winner on the LPGA tour, she might still become a dominant player in the game. I sincerely hope she does. It's just so weird that, at only 23, it feels like time is already running out for her.

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