HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - The putter goes flying through the air, crashes with a thud against a golf bag, hurled by the disappointed force of a reeling pro golfer. The pro fights to hold back her tears. Almost nobody bothers to look up.
That's because the golfer is Erica Blasberg and not Michelle Wie. And this is nobody's fault but Team Wie and those Wie mythmakers out there who are now either completely silent as Wie struggles to come to grips with her spiral into withdrawal fever - or worse ripping the false idol they worshipped at for so long.
When you're Michelle Wie, when you've received arguably the greatest smoke and mirrors sports build up in history, you can never go back to being an Erica Blasberg.
It's obvious after Wie's 11 over 83 in the third round of the McDonald's LPGA Championship here today that the LPGA Tour, Nike and all those William Morris suits have created a mess that will never bloody their bottom lines. No one who isn't on more meds than Paris Hilton expects to see Wie step onto the first tee box tomorrow morning in the final round of the LPGA Championship.
"You know it's not doing so well," Wie said, rubbing a wrist wrap that belongs in some sports infamy hall of fame. "We'll just have to see throughout the night, how it holds up."
Oh, how the golf-savvy Vegas folks surely wish they could take sucker bets on her playing.
This would be her second straight withdrawal. Doing it this time wouldn't be nearly as egregious as the walking off after 16 holes last week (coincidentally also at 14-over) at the Ginn Tribute, but eyebrows will still be raised. At least the 88 rule that bans a non-LPGA member such as Wie from the tour for a year if that number is shot during a round will not torment her (the rule doesn't apply once the cut's been made).
Wie never danced with that number today, even with all the wayward tee shots, awkward positions in futile recovery attempts and grimaces. Still does anyone think she isn't capable of approaching 90 tomorrow?
When the first groups after Wie's started trickling in, the caddies began asking what Wie shot. When told 11-over, one of the pros turned her head and mouthed, "Wow." Everyone waited for a round like this from Wie, some in the Bulle Rock clubhouse even hoped for it, and still it brought shock and awe.
It's impossible for anyone to turn their head away from the scene now, impossible for Michelle Wie to ever get what she needs.
Wie needs the chance to be an Erica Blasberg, a pro who can make her mistakes and throw fits in the shadows. Blasberg's putter toss came on the 18th hole of the second round Friday evening. She'd just recorded a bad bogey, dropping her back to even when she had a great chance to go into the weekend hunting a big check.
About 15 people total stood anywhere near the hole and half of those were tournament volunteers. Blasberg walked off the green after getting hugs from her playing partners, tears streaking now. This is a women who turns 23 next week, a golfer who had two years at a big-time college golf program and tons of amateur competition.
There is nothing wrong with crying in sports. Whoever thinks it's worse than slamming the putter on the green or unleashed a string of the word that drove Howard Stern to satellite radio is caught up in a old school male-only view of the pro game.
Wie knows she doesn't have that luxury though. She seems more aware than ever, more self-conscious than ever, that her every move is watched. That's how it goes for the superstars in sports. That's why you don't want to be regarded as a superstar before you're ready.
Now Wie catches herself on the golf course and holds herself back when she's pulling back the club in frustration. She approaches rules officials with near timidity to ask if her therapist can give her wrist massages on the course, speaking so soft it's a near whisper.
She sometimes looks more bottled up than a Mormon at Mardi Gras.
Then she turns around and delivers another press conference that media-dumb athletes like Jason Giambi could only dream about. Today, Wie stepped outside the scorer's trailer and talked to her ever-present William Morris manager Greg Nared for a few minutes before heading over to meet the waiting cluster of reporters.
Did Nared tell her to lay the groundwork for a Sunday withdrawal? With Wie, there will always be the question. There's always some corporate guy in her ear, always so much noise. Earlier in the week, Paula Creamer waited to do a one-on-one interview until her agent could listen in too, but she didn't need to huddle with him before answering the questions.
Whatever Nared said, Wie started talking like she was ready to quit another tournament. Of course there was a "I really want to play," talk that "it would be awesome to get another round in."
But ... There's always a but.
Wie now sounds like she knows she shouldn't be here, that she's not at a pro level right now. "I think I was kind of blinded because I wanted to play so bad ..." she said. "Maybe I would have reconsidered if it wasn't a major."
Because it's a major, Wie should have given it even more respect. Phil Knight must be shrugging as he watches his stock. Ten million for all this publicity? Why should he care if Wie even ever breaks down on a golf course like Paris did in a courtroom? He got his money's worth and then some already.
Wie seems to know what she needs. She's even talking like some struggling club pro, saying "I'm just trying to make pars." There's no putting the hype back in the bottle though, no way to backtrack this buildup.
Her day ends with her signing autographs. Wie's mom Bo, mostly futilely, tries to hold the hulking gauze wrap of ice on the nonscribbling wrist. She looks like a concerned parent. The few who had reason to care about Michelle Wie before she could make them money seem to know, too.
There's no going back, no restarts. Michelle Wie's in the battle of her sports life now and it's all uphill lies from here.
June 9, 2007
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Anyone looking back at the final scores of the 2009 Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's will almost certainly come to the wrong conclusion that this was a comfortable three-shot win for Catriona Matthew. It was anything but as the seemingly imperturbable Scot struggled to hit a fairway throughout the final round and was only rescued by some superb recovery shots and a bunch of astonishing long putts.
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