She’s only 18.
She’s only 18.
If I keep saying it (okay, typing it), maybe I’ll stop thinking that we’ve seen the best of Michelle Wie. Maybe I’ll not acknowledge that feeling in my gut that the young woman TIME magazine once declared as “one of 100 people who would shape our world,” whom Arnold Palmer once said might influence golf as much as Tiger Woods “or more,” may not reshape anything at all – except her already-sizable bank account.
But she’s only …
And yet, it doesn’t look real good right now. Late last week, Wie withdrew from the upcoming Safeway International, citing yet another wrist injury, this one incurred on the range at Stanford, her school and my alma mater. Doctors there subjected her to every alphabet test imaginable – MRI, CAT, etc. – and her handlers tell us it’s nothing serious, just a strain. But after Wie essentially lost much of 2007 over a wrist injury that reportedly first occurred over a year ago, I’m more than a tad concerned that we’ve not heard the last from Wie’s wrist.
And that’s not good. For a golfer, a wrist injury may be the most debilitating injury imaginable, or at least tied with a funky back. At the moment of impact with the ball, it may be the most critical part of the body, certainly an area that absorbs the most shock. A tender wrist, let along an injured one, renders everything else moot – tempo, hip turn, head movement, follow through. None of them matters if the wrist is wrong.
Oh they can certainly heal, just like any other part of the body. And Wie is no doubt in her prime healing years. But an injured wrist makes it difficult to practice. And until fully healed it’s susceptible to being re-injured easily – like by trying to cut the food or your plate or turn the steering wheel.
But let’s face it, my worries for Wie extend beyond her wrist.
It’s not as if she’s dazzled us with her game for quite awhile now. It’s been two years since she was more of a contender than a side show. In 2006, she finished third in two events, including the U.S. Women’s Open. She also took fifth at the LPGA Championship. She was finally starting to show us that she had as much game as flame, that she was as skilled a golfer as she was powerful off the tee.
She was almost making me stop being annoyed at those who managed her career, the people – including her father, B.J. – who steered her to too many men’s events where she only experienced defeat and humiliation by missing cuts. Or who fueled the hype machine that landed her on magazine covers before her time and duped Madison Avenue into making her rich before she earned the right to be so. (At the age of 15, some guessed Wie would pocket earn up to $13 million in endorsements in her first year, which would have placed her third among Forbes’ list of highest paid woman athletes – behind only Marie Sharapova and Serena Williams.)
She was to be a six-foot-tall global marketing machine who could smack a golf ball 300 yards and rock the runway in high heels.
There was buzz of Wie clothing and jewelry lines. Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports Marketing once told USA Today: “Once the apparel line gets rolling and you have a couple other major endorsements her earning could reach $30-40 million a year.”
Right now, though, there is simply no buzz. There’s no sizzle about Wie and I can’t help blame those who placed greed above the long-term welfare of, yes, a child.
Even worse, there are still lingering negative vibes from 2007 when Wie and her camp were criticized for pulling out of a tournament after 16 holes, citing, duh, a wrist injury when she was playing so badly she was in danger of losing her ability to accept sponsor exemptions -the only way Wie can play in an LPGA event since she is not a member of the LPGA Tour.
I know, she’s only 18. I keep telling myself that and, like others, still give Wie the benefit of the doubt because she is so talented, so engaging, so smart (hey, she is at Stanford!) and, yes, so young.
But I still can’t help but wonder: Have we seen the best of Wie?