SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. - When Michelle Wie walked off the 10th hole of the U.S. Women's Open Saturday, she stood at 17-over par, one stroke higher than Alexis Thompson - the youngest player to ever qualify for the U.S. Women's Open.
How symbolic: Thompson, an amateur and the youngest player in the tournament, is there, gutting it out - while Wie withdraws once again in shame.
The youth movement on the LPGA Tour is moving ahead at full steam - whether Wie is onboard or not. There are too many talented young women emerging, from every corner of the globe - now and in the years to come - to dwell on the failures of one over-hyped teen.
Wie is getting lapped by hungrier, grittier and better young players. Very soon, the LPGA Tour won't need Wie. Nike will find a replacement for that multi-million dollar contract - if they aren't looking already. There are plenty of suitable faces to chose from:
Brazilian Angela Park is an 18-year-old LPGA rookie, but boasts a strong amateur and Futures Tour pedigree. She's climbed the international ranks and is ready to win on the big stage as early as Sunday.
"It's an exciting time," said Park of the LPGA's teen class. "Everyone should be turning on the TV and watching."
ESPN is covering this week's event in Brazil for the first time. The LPGA already has South Korean audiences locked in. Park is bringing golf to new markets.
Morgan Pressel, 19, is separating herself from the field of young American cuties. She's always been confident. But her recent breakthrough major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship has given her a swagger and maturity reserved for a wily veteran. She already has a posh Callaway endorsement, but with a few more majors before she turns 21 - that could increase exponentially.
Even Ji-yai Shin, who leads heading into Sunday in her first U.S. Open appearance, could win over the hearts of fans worldwide: The Korean LPGA Player of the Year in 2006 is bashful and adorable. She has a background tragic enough that anyone with a soul will fall in love with her quest to climb the world rankings.
Then there are the teens not yet ready to contend, but have several years before they'll face any scrutiny, including Thompson and U.S. Amateur winner Kimberly Kim, who held her own playing with Annika Sorenstam the first two rounds.
That's not even counting the twenty-somethings who seem like they've been on tour forever already: Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Natalie Gulbis and Erica Blasberg: all young talent with great potential both in championships and marketability.
Then there's the world's current No. 1, Lorena Ochoa. Already among the elite, a few majors added to her resume could be the difference in crossing into the mainstream.
It's true none of these girls have the potential ceiling that Wie promised as an optimistic 13-year-old - out for Ryder Cups and Masters wins. But at the present, all of them have a better chance than her at becoming the global icon for women's golf.
Everyone loves a prodigy, and the LPGA will have more opportunities in the near future than any other sport.
"My parents sacrificed everything for me, I owe this all to them," said Park of her ability to rise to the top at just 18 years of age.
But she's not alone. In every country that has heard of women's golf, there is a father grooming his daughter in hopes of making her the best on the planet. Many are likely using the Wie Camp's greed and impatience as a hazardous warning to follow a more cautious formula.
Some day soon, the LPGA and its sponsors are going to put the Wie Project on the shelf and look at "Plan B." Whomever they chose, they may discover the next option was more appealing all along.
June 30, 2007
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
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