If there is one cardinal rule of a sports writer it’s that you aren’t supposed to cheer from the press box so excuse me if I take that rule and toss it aside for a moment.
On Sunday, when the Kraft Nabisco Championship kicks off, I will be cheering for Michelle Wie.
I won’t be cheering for Michelle because I’m a fan of hers or because I don’t like Lexi Thompson. I won’t be cheering for her because I want to see a headline maker with what a Wie win would do for women’s golf, or what we writers want to see happen at the first major of the LPGA season.
I’ll be cheering for Michelle Wie because for years now she has been beaten up by critics, me included at times, for something she never brought on herself.
Michelle hit the golf scene as a 10-year-old who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Public Links, qualifying for her first LPGA event at 12 and making her first ever cut on the LPGA by 13. She was a phenomenon if we’d ever seen one, playing in the final group at this same major championship at the tender age of 13 (she tied for ninth that year, not bad for a kid three years away from a drivers license).
At the 2004 Sony Open, a PGA Tour event in her home state of Hawaii, Wie not only became the youngest female to ever tee it up in a PGA Tour event, she nearly made the cut after a second round 68, missing it by a single shot and followed that up with a T-4 at the Kraft Nabisco, improving her best finish at a LPGA major at 14.
After a second place finish at the LPGA Championship at 15 and a T-3 at the Women’s British Open, it seemed she wasn’t just going to be the next Tiger Woods, she might accomplish his goals earlier than he did, and after deciding to turn pro, she followed the steps of Tiger by signing a lucrative deal with Nike and putting a very obvious bullseye on her back.
After 2006 when Wie finished in the top-5 in the first three major championship of the LPGA season, life got a lot harder for Wie.
The game didn’t come as easy as it tends to happen to those teenagers that find early success and then wonder how in the world they got there. She struggled in 2007, missed all three cuts she started in the ’08 majors but finally broke through in ’09 with her first LPGA win.
The win didn't open the flood gates as some expected, and the critics got louder. They wondered about her game, her swing, her putting stroke and her parents. They wondered why this girl was making more money than dozens of other LPGA players combined, and started spewing hate at a girl that just wanted to play golf.
Wie decided that college was something she wanted to pursue, and again followed the way of the Tiger and enrolled in Stanford. The critics rumbled. They wondered if she even cared to play professionally anymore or if golf had gotten too hard for this princess of the game that couldn’t make a cut or make a putt.
Life wasn’t nearly as fun for Michelle Wie as it once was. Golf, in a way only golfers would describe it as, sucked.
That’s why I’m cheering for Michelle on Sunday. I’m rooting for Michelle because, as crazy as it sounds, I like rooting for the underdog.
I’m rooting for Michelle on Sunday because I like people that love life, love the game of golf and love the competition.
At 24, Michelle Wie is as comfortable a person as you’ll ever meet for her age. She knows your name, smiles, has fun and jokes around with friends, the way you’d expect a 24-year-old to do. In a strange way, she's as normal as any pro you'll meet, even if she's the biggest draw at every golf tournament she enters.
She isn’t some robotic being walking around a golf course with the Swoosh on her visor and the golf swing of a top-10 PGA Tour player, not understanding the gift she was given.
She’s just like the rest of the tour, hoping to make a cut, make a top-10 and hopefully snag another win (she now has two to her credit after the 2010 Canadian Open).
I’m rooting for Michelle Wie because I think after all this Paulina Gretzky uproar, no matter what side of the fence you’re on about it, it would simply be cool to see the biggest name in women’s golf step up and win her first major championship on a Sunday before the biggest golf week of the year.
I’m rooting for her because so many people aren’t and for no good reason.
On Sunday I won’t be a writer for a few hours in the middle of the day. I won’t be a critic or an editor or a man with a lanyard around his neck.
I will simply be a guy watching golf, rooting for the girl that came on the scene over a decade ago with all the promise in the world and a golf swing that made club pros envious.
That girl is still there, and even if she doesn’t pull out the win on Sunday and doesn’t get a chance to jump in that pond on 18, washing away all the hate and disappointment and lonely nights when it never seemed like it would come back, she will still be the same woman that gets in her courtesy car and drives to her next event with the same goal of winning in her mind.
That is the type of golfer I root for.
Good luck Michelle Wie. Hit that driver a mile, stick a few iron shots and hopefully wiggle in a few putts.
Oh, and if you do get the chance to make that leap, I’d advice you to tuck your knees. You’ve never stepped off the ledge a major champion. Hopefully that changes on Sunday, and golf will be a lot better for it if it does.
- - - - - - -