Wie the next Tiger, but not on PGA Tour
Published: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 12:16 a.m.
HONOLULU - Jesper Parnevik said it would have been the biggest miracle in sports. So he wanted to be there just in case Michelle Wie made the cut at the Sony Open.
Instead of going to the range when he finished his second round, the Swede turned into a spectator and followed the 14-year-old girl along the back nine at Waialae Country Club.
"I've never done that before for anyone," he said.
What might have been a miracle turned into one of golf's most feel-good failures.
Despite composure beyond her years and birdies on two of the last three holes, Wie finished with a 68 and missed the cut by a single stroke.
The next morning, Parnevik was still struggling to comprehend what he saw: Over two days at Waialae, a ninth-grade girl beat or tied 64 men, 25 of them past winners on the PGA Tour.
"You guys have been looking for the next Tiger Woods," he said. "I think you found her."
Does that mean Wie will be the best player on the planet by the time she's 24?
The most dominant player on her tour?
It all depends on whether Wie decides her future is competing against men or women.
It also assumes she is still motivated to be the best when she becomes old enough to drive a car.
Crystal balls are clouded when it comes to golf. There are countless tales of junior phenoms who never make it out of college, if they get that far.
Even so, Wie is special.
"Do you know of any other golfer with more potential under the age of 25?" Davis Love III asked. "Probably not. I think she's the next Tiger Woods. But we just have to see what happens."
No one can argue with her talent, only where it will lead.
It starts with her ability to deal with failure along the way. Because as spectacular as she was at the Sony Open, she still missed the cut on a course she had played 30 times the last two months.
And that's why even her newest fans, such as Love and Ernie Els, are so skeptical about her plans to continue competing on the highest level.
"She'll have a lot of attention wherever she goes," Els said.
The Big Easy is more concerned with what happens when the cheers go away, when missing the cut is regarded as a failure instead of celebrated as a remarkable feat.
The Booz Allen Classic, forever known as the Kemper Open, wants her to play, and there are sure to be other second-tier PGA Tour events who need the publicity.
"I just don't want to see her get into something over her head," Els said as he walked to the driving range late Saturday afternoon.
"What she did was great. She's already proven so much to herself and everybody. She should really go in there and dominate women's golf. Then, it will be even easier to come out here."
Els played in the South African Open when he was 16 and missed the cut by one shot. When he started getting PGA Tour exemptions in the early 1990s, he set a goal of making the cut and went four straight tournaments missing by a single shot.
"You lose a bit of confidence," Els said. "You try too hard, and that's a bit of a battle. What she did was great. But next time she misses it by one shot . . . I just don't want to see her get despondent."
While her support at the Sony Open was nearly unanimous, there wasn't a single player who thought she wasn't better off sticking to her own age group, her own gender and learning to win.
Just like Woods.
He won three straight U.S. Junior Amateurs, then three straight U.S. Amateur titles, and nearly three dozen other big junior events along the way.
Woods didn't play a professional tournament until he was 16 (he missed the cut by six shots at Riviera). He never played more than five in one year until he was ready to turn pro.
Wie plays more professional events these days than Greg Norman.
She played nine last year and has at least seven on the schedule for 2004. One of them is the Evian Masters in France on the LPGA, meaning she will miss the U.S. Junior Girls, one of the most prestigious tournaments in her age group.
Her father, B.J. Wie, reasons that the best way to improve is to play against the best players.
Whatever the case, Wie's impact is undeniable.
Attendance was up 22 percent at Waialae for the second round. ESPN extended its coverage as long as it could Friday night in prime time as Wie tried to make the cut. Love said his 15-year-old daughter was watching at home.
"She doesn't watch golf no matter how I'm playing," Love said.
Whether Wie sustains that kind of interest depends on her success. Serious players don't even think about the cut; they think about winning.
Wie has the talent to win on the LPGA Tour - if not this year, then soon.
What would be the point of playing on the PGA Tour until she could win on a regular basis?
Woods is one of the biggest sports stars because he wins more than anyone else in his game, just like Jack Nicklaus, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Martina Navratilova and Annika Sorenstam.
"She's got the prettiest swing I've ever seen. She seems like she's having fun pushing herself," Love said. "I would much rather her be very good, maybe the best ever in ladies' golf, than just another guy out here."
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