On the eve of her return to the site of one of her two career wins at the Canadian Open, Michelle Wie is getting peppered with questions.
That's not new.
The Hawaii native is being criticized by LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam.
That's not new.
But the questions are coming this week because Sorenstam recently wondered aloud if Wie is "distracted" by academics.
That is new. And it's ridiculous.
"She's very distracted with school, doesn't really play as much full time as I thought she would," Sorenstam told the press at this year's U.S. Women's Open. "I think she needs to come out here and compete more regularly."
We are deluged by stories of young athletes ditching school to focus on sports. How often have we seen talented teens leaving high school or college early for overhyped dreams of fame and riches in pro sports, only to see them end up out of work, out of money, and out of luck?
Now, apparently, it's a bad thing when a young athlete makes the opposite choice: school over sports.
According to Sorenstam, Wie needs to drop those textbooks and get back on the golf course if she wants to be taken seriously by her peers and by the golf world.
We're not talking about modeling or cutting a record. This isn't Dwight Howard choosing an acting role over developing his post game. This isn't Ricky Williams bailing on football to smoke marijauna. This is an individual choosing a Stanford education over an individual sport.
Would the LPGA be more successful if Wie focused fully on golf? Probably. Would Wie be a better story if she had 200 career wins instead of two? Sure. But so what? The LPGA's problems are not Wie's problems. It's not like Wie is a member of a team. She's responsible to herself alone, and if she decides to be selfish enough to harvest her talent in the classroom instead of cultivating her ability on the golf course, then good for her. If only every 21-year-old made the same decision.
The question asked about Wie over and over again, for a decade now, is "Does she love golf?" In my opinion, the answer is, "Not entirely." Wie always liked winning and hitting the ball far and being in front of cameras, but she never took to the drudgery of endless practice and putting. That, of course, is what Annika always did well. She mastered the boring. And it probably bugs her that Wie got rich by ignoring the boring.
Wie got a lot of glory (and cash) without doing decades of work. Now she wants to be a college student, which is decidedly more fun than beating balls at the range. Maybe that means she's not mentally tough -- "You wonder if she's mentally strong enough to finish at the top," Sorenstam said -- but who cares? A lot of people in this world are not mentally strong enough to win championships but happen to be mentally sharp enough to make a living and make the world a better place. Wie might be an also-ran in the golf world, but she can still be a big success in some other career, and just because Annika doesn't live in that other world doesn't mean it's not equally (or more) important.
The first time I heard the name "Michelle Wie" was in August of 2000, when I was interviewing then-Hawaii football coach June Jones. He mentioned a 10-year-old golf superstar on Oahu in the same conversation in which I asked him about Barry Sanders, who he coached in Detroit. Jones confided that he felt Sanders never really loved football. He was just good at it.
When Sanders walked away, choosing his own interests over football, he got trashed by people who felt he somehow owed something to his sport. Now, nearly 20 years later, Sanders looks like a genius. The Lions are still a doormat, Sanders is in the Hall of Fame, and he is healthy enough after years of pounding to enjoy watching his son play the game. You can never go wrong investing in yourself. That's what Barry did, and that's what Wie is doing by focusing on school.
Annika Sorenstam made an impact through golf. She then decided to make an impact through motherhood. She is a Hall of Fame player and she seems to be a Hall of Fame person. But Michelle Wie is barely an adult and she has the right to follow her own dreams. If those dreams include international relations or business or communcations -- areas she’s always had an interest in -- who is Annika Sorenstam to guilt her back to the golf course?
Whether you like Michelle Wie or hate her -- odds are it's the latter -- you have to agree she's intelligent. And I think it's pretty clear that of all the places the country needs intelligent people, the driving range is not high on the list.
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