As it stands now, Michelle Wie's career more closely resembles Ty Tryon's than Tiger Woods.
Tryon, you might recall, was the youngest golfer to ever make it through PGA Q-School at the age of 17. He then joined the Tour, was given million-a-year endorsement deals with Callaway Golf and Target, but he never lived up to his hype as the Next Big Thing. These days, Tryon can be found playing the mini-tours, and he has yet to find his mojo and live up to the expectations he had eight years ago.
Michelle Wie, on the other hand, has never won a 72-hole tournament at any level, anywhere. Her biggest win to date came in 2002 in the Women's Division of the Hawai'i State Open, a three round affair where she won over Cindy Rarick. With all due respect to Ms. Rarick, that's not a win over Lorena Ochoa or Christie Kerr.
Somehow, however, Wie is the Next Great Hope of the LPGA. As Dan Bickley wrote in the Arizona Sun on March 27th, the LPGA's idea of its future seems to hinge on the future of their young but extremely under-accomplished star:
[A]s the 2009 golf season gets rolling, this much remains true: Wie is the tour's best hope for relevancy. And she may be more important to the future of the LPGA than Woods is for the men's game.The simple question is: why? After all, the LPGA has Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Christie Kerr, an entire contingent of incredibly talented international players such as Jeong Jang, and others. But it's Wie or bust, or so it seems.
"For sure, it is a new beginning," Wie said. "I'm really excited for this summer to come, this spring and summer. I'm just very excited."
Wie is still a spectacle. That hasn't changed, either. Despite her early tee time on Friday, her gallery bulged to around 500 people in the second round of the J Golf Phonoenix LPGA National. She was the only one drawing a serious crowd, and the only one with a Phoenix police officer escorting her group down the fairway.
Wie was a young phenom, no doubt, but she never has backed up her considerable golf skills with wins where they count the most: the LPGA, the USGA, or even the Futures Tour. And as any fan of Tiger Woods will tell you, the only thing that really counts in tournament golf are wins. And the only thing that make any professional golfer great are wins in major tournaments.
Ask Rory Macelroy, who has won on the European Tour at the tender age of 18. He too is considered a phenomenon, and is Europe's best hope for its next great golfer. Thing is, Rory has hoisted a trophy, and a has a win on the big stage to his name. While his C.V. is far from distinguished at this stage, since Macelroy has yet to prove he can contend and even win a major, he has proven that at least some of the hyperbole that surrounded him as a youngster was on the mark. Wie, on the other hand, has yet to live up to hers -- and questions still remain if she ever will.
As the LPGA's first major of the year prepares to tee off tomorrow, it will be well worth watching Michelle Wie and observing how she plays. If she is to truly fulfill the LPGA's hope of having its own superstar a la Tiger, she will need to not only make the cut but also show that she can compete in the upper echelons of the women's game. If she doesn't, she'll continue to resemble Ty Tryon, pressure will continue to mount upon her, and the LPGA may soon be searching for someone else to raise its profile.
Hopefully for Wie, good things will happen soon, because the window of opportunity won't last forever.
image: Keith Allison, on Flickr