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Playing with the boys
Michelle Wie is a 14 year-old Hawaiian schoolgirl. She stands over six feet tall and has the musculature of a professional lady athlete. She appears to have no nerves. She is also so precociously talented in playing golf that she can play to a plus handicap. She is a pretty girl with a casual, almost sweet composure and self-assurance. In short, she is every 15-year-old golfing boy's nightmare.

For American corporate golf, however, Michelle Wie is a dream come true. She is the personification of every marketing man's fantasy and the answer to the prayer of every sports wear manufacturer in the world. In short, she is the model marketing opportunity.

Michelle Wie is a prodigious and precocious golfing talent. She is only the third woman in the history of the game to compete in a men's tournament, the youngest by far and the first to return two rounds under par. Indeed, I suspect that she may be the youngest of either gender to compete in a full-blown USPGA Tour event. Her appearance might have been of less significance had she failed to break 80 and come last in the field. Had that happened the tournament sponsors would have been ridiculed, accused of hype, manipulation and possibly even child exploitation?

Michelle was in the field of the Sony Open in Honolulu at the invitation of the sponsors. She just failed to make the cut after her 80-foot eagle chip at the closing hole finished four feet from the cup and the birdie that followed was just not good enough. Although the Sony suits may have been saddened, their Tour operator counterparts must have given a collective sigh of relief in chorus with every pro in the field. All, however, should pay heed to her post-round remarks to the press for, unlike Annika Sorenstam who said after her men's Tour debut at the Colonial last year that she belonged to the woman's Tour, young Miss Wie declared that she perceived her future on both Tours.

Whether or not this is a realistic ambition for this young girl is of some consequence. But what is of greater import is the effect of exposing this child, for she is yet only that, to this experience that she doubtless enjoyed. This kid has to go back to school. She has to rejoin her friends and return to a life out of the limelight. She has to return to a normality that will never be quite he same again.

Childhood in America has virtually ceased to be. Replaced by a sort of mini-adulthood, the teenage or youth years have been compressed into a cynical wise-up period. It is not surprising that so much of modern American literature and many of the films made are concerned with the teen years and are heavier on nostalgia than even the most dripping of country and western ballads.

Michelle Wie has a great many years of golf at the highest level in front of her. She has only a few years of her youth to play with and enjoy before the stresses and strains of responsibility befall her. She is too young to appreciate this and like all children she is doubtless in a hurry to be recognised in the adult world. The cost of such recognition is high; it is, in fact, your youth, something that you don't get a second shot at for there is no practise round for it. The world of tennis is littered with elderly 20-year-olds bewildered about what happened to their adolescence. This should not be allowed to happen in golf. The Sony suits, together with every other brand name executive, should be warned off allowing golf - and young golfers - to go the way of tennis.

Miss Wie's appearance in the Honolulu event shows how far corporate America will stoop for the scoop but her game also highlights another topic of concern - that of the ball. Miss Wie hit it a long way. Indeed, she hit it some shots 300 yards - almost as far as any of the gentlemen with whom she was playing. Miss Wie is a big girl who is very fit and very strong. She also has a picture book swing that is the product of years of top line grooming. Three hundred yards is, however, a long way for a 14-year-old of either gender to hit the golf ball. For a girl, no matter how talented, it is a very long way indeed.

Can I suggest that if the golfing authorities are not prepared to apply limits to the technology of the golf ball to maintain the respectability of great old golf courses, they should at least give a thought to sustaining the suffering psyche of great old male golfers.

©    19 - JANUARY 2004

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