As I watched Michelle Wie plead her case to a rules official Sunday after incurring a two-stroke penalty for grounding her club in a hazard, a disturbing thought crossed my mind.
I'm not sure I'd trust Wie to report a penalty on herself if she knew nobody had witnessed the infraction.
I could be way off. She could be as honorable as anyone on the LPGA tour. She could be the female version of J.P. Hayes for all I know.
But as she stated her case — one that wasn't exactly supported by the video evidence — I couldn't help but think I was watching someone cook up a story on the fly to cover the fact that she carelessly let her club fall to the ground after hitting a ball out of a water hazard.
Wie claimed she was off balance and said as much to officials twice, once on the course after informed she was being penalized and again during a lengthy debate after the round when given the opportunity to view the replay in the TV truck.
Two factors weakened her case. First, she doesn't appear to place the club on the ground until after she realizes that while she advanced the ball out of the water, it did not leave the hazard line. Second, she doesn't appear to be supporting her weight on the club, something you'd expect to see if she was bracing herself against a fall.
McDowell had hit a nice recovery shot out of shallow water, but something didn't feel right. He immediately made it clear he may have touched the surface of the water on his backswing and confirmed the infraction after the round when viewing replays in the TV truck. It was a subtle ripple, but enough to confirm McDowell's fears. He had goofed, and he'd accept the consequences.
In Wie's defense, the two situations were not identical. In McDowell's case it was simply a matter of confirming whether the club had touched the hazard. With Wie on Sunday, there was never any doubt that she grounded her club. But a player is allowed to do so in a hazard to prevent herself from falling, so what was at issue at La Costa was what was going through Wie's mind when she grounded the club.
Did she suffer a momentary lapse in concentration after viewing the result of the shot, or was she legitimately concerned, as she stated in the truck, that she and her white skirt were about to get very intimate with a muddy lake?
Now I'm not flat-out calling Wie a cheater (although if you do some research on the subject in professional golf, you might be surprised by some of the names that come up). What nobody can dispute, however, is that she's young. Part of the maturation process in life is accepting responsibility for your actions. Who didn't try to explain away every failed mid-term or dented fender during our formative years?
And Wie may very well believe that she was within the rules when placing her club on the bank of that hazard. Thing happen quickly in the heat of battle and sometimes the mind concocts the most favorable explanation possible for what transpired in the blink of an eye. How many times have you seen a basketball player vehemently protest a call when replays clearly validate an official's decision?
What's troubling in Wie's case — and this isn't her first brush with an unfavorable ruling — is that professional golfers always seem to err on the side of being overly punitive when it comes to self-reporting infractions. You're nothing in golf without your honor and jeopardizing your reputation isn't worth the $90,000 or three places on the leaderboard you might gain by skirting the rules.
If Wie had immediately acknowledged her misstep and reported a double-bogey on No. 11 rather than a miracle par save, we'd be holding her up right now as another example of why golf is such a great an honorable game.
Instead we're left to wonder whether the most influential figure in women's golf has the game's best interests in mind every time she puts a tee in the ground. That's a dangerous predicament for a tour that has its very existence, and forgive the obvious pun here, hanging in the balance.