Michelle Wie's marketing mythmakers just hope you don't pay too much attention to what David Beckham infamously called on U.S. radio, "The maths."
The 21-over-par last-place finish by 10 strokes among the golfers who made the weekend at Bulle Rock are not the numbers of concern. It's not even the 20 straight rounds over par or the fact that Wie hasn't had one under since July of 2006 causing consternation for Team Wie.
Those are out there for everyone to see. They can even be spun as the backstory to a great comeback if Wie ever puts something together. No, what terrifies the mythmakers is that someone will notice that new major winner Suzann Pettersen possesses the power game that Wie was supposed to have, doesn't now and maybe never will.
One of the greatest feats in the history of publicity is Wie's team convincing major news outlets that she regularly drives the ball 300 yards. Ari Gold, Scott Boras and Jerry Maguire couldn't pull this off working together in some fantasy world where agents are treated with more reverence than the Pope. And two of them are fictional.
Golf distances are the easiest numbers to fudge in any sport. If you think a bunch of sportswriters can tell the difference between 280 and 300 with a look, you probably believe LeBron still has a chance in the NBA Finals.
Pettersen outdrove her final-round playing partner On Min by at least 30 yards on almost every hole. On Min is one of the slightest, shortest players on the tour. But the truth is that Pettersen would have left Wie in the dust, too.
"She's so strong," On Min said of Pettersen.
This is a great thing for Pettersen, but not so much for the LPGA Tour's own branding specialist, Commissioner Carolyn Bivens. Pettersen may have more talent in her little pinky than most players out here have in their entire bodies, as Hall of Fame runner-up Karrie Webb claims. But the 26-year-old Norwegian with the powerful build is no one's idea of an American Idol celebrity.
If you're stuck under a car, you want Suzann Pettersen to be there. If you're trying to draw casual sports fans to the TV, you still need Wie.
It's in everyone's best interests to keep up the illusion of Michelle Wie as the long bomber. It's a huge part of the carefully concocted legend, what really thrust her into the headlines in the first place years ago. She's the one woman who can hit it with the men pros ... yada, yada, yada.
What happens when more and more people slowly realize she's not?
Pettersen not only drives longer than Wie: She drives much straighter. The first-time major champion averaged a women's golf whopping 280.8 yards per drive for the championship, second to only Jee Young Lee's 286.1 yards. That includes a 285-yard average in the final round with one of her sport's biggest trophies on the line.
More importantly, Pettersen hit 13 of 14 fairways on Sunday. It often seems like Wie hits one fairway per week now.
She's terrified of her driver right now. Wie didn't uncover the club that made her famous for the first time until her 47th hole of the tournament, when last place among the cut makers was all but assured. Wie's best shots at Bulle Rock came in some imaginatively crafted iron approaches.
There actually could be some Phil Mickelson short-game magic for Wie down the road. But will that be enough for the fans geared to expect power shock from Wie?
The "oohs" came on Pettersen's rockets this weekend. On a few holes, some beer-bellied guys even started calling out "Suzie, Suzie" like she was John Daly (minus the knife wounds) or something.
"She's been an underachiever for a long time," Webb said.
Only no one much bothered Pettersen about it. Until she blew the Kraft Nabisco with one of the great collapses in golf history, no one really talked about Pettersen. She made her mistakes, bullheadedly drove shots sideways into the next county without much grief.
"I believe I can be the best player in the world," Pettersen said, and who could argue with that after seeing Lorena Ochoa meekly drop to 0-for-22 in majors. "But you have to give me time."
Wie has no time. If the 17-year-old doesn't do something in the U.S. Women's Open in a few weeks, the last of the marketing pixie dust may brush off. It's an impossible burden and everything she signed up for.
She plans to go to Pine Needles early and get in a few extra practice rounds on a USGA setup that's going to be much harder than the Bulle Rock track she put an 83 up on. But first it's off to New York and some endorsement obligations.
Wie's time in this sleepy town 40 miles outside of Baltimore ended with someone actually asking if she would consider majoring in journalism at Stanford. Wie, who earlier in the week said of the media, "They're not like my friends," kept a straight face.
"I don't know," she said. "Maybe. I'm not actually a great writer. I'm more of a math person, so we'll have to see."
Wie must know the math is not good for her right now. On Min finally broke down in tears after her improbable third-place finish when asked about her dad who sold off his construction business in golf-happy South Korea and rearranged his life for her crazy golf dream. This finish in a major guarantees On Min a lot more golf on the LPGA Tour.
Michelle Wie never had such worries about getting to play. So why does her future seem even more uncertain?
June 11, 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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