If this is the end for Michelle Wie, what is her legacy?
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Michelle Wie announced recently that she’s shutting it down for the rest of the year to allow her hand and wrist time to heal. There’s speculation that at the age of 29, this may be the end of her career because of persistent injury and her desire to move on with her life. If she doesn’t return to full-time professional golf, what impact will that have on the LPGA and what will her legacy be?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Somewhat sad to say, but I don’t think her retirement will have much effect on the LPGA, and her legacy as a player won’t be particularly noteworthy. But oh, the potential, 15 years ago! If anything, the legacy will be a negative one… a statement on over-protective, pushy parents… on pushing a precocious talent too far, way too soon… on expecting too much, too early… on signing big endorsement deals based on speculation… and frankly, on letting a questionable coach (David Leadbetter, come on down!) tinker with the merchandise far too often. In spite of all the negatives that may have done Michelle in, by all accounts (including a couple of personal encounters), she was and is a very nice and approachable young lady, with a fine sense of humour. There never really was a Michelle Wie era in women’s golf, and it’s sad to think it’ll never happen.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Wie is an interesting story. I don’t think her retirement (if indeed that’s what she chooses) will be a major blow to the LPGA Tour, she has some star power, but others far exceed her at this time. Her legacy? Not sure there is one sadly. Chalk another athlete up to disappointment based on early hype. She definitely did the right thing going to University and getting a degree (Stanford no less), I hope that helps her transition o something else if she chooses. And, she got her money early from Nike ($10M), so if she’s been smart with it, in addition to her Tour winnings and other endorsements she should be able to live comfortably the rest of her life.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: For me, it is easy to be a critic because I am not a fan. However, at this point, I actually feel sorry for her. Apparently, she has a net worth of about $9M so from that perspective her career has been successful. The LPGA TOUR placed a lot of their future planning on her attracting attention to their product and it’s difficult to say she gets a failing grade with 5 wins including a US Open but it sure wasn’t what they hoped for. Her legacy should be less parental interference in a child’s development. Learn to win at every level. Skipping a grade might be the right thing in regard to one part of a child’s progress but every child grows at varying rates in all the different parts of life. I hope she gets married, runs away from home and lives happily ever after.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Wow. There’s enough here to write a series of columns, but I’ll try to sum it up in one paragraph. Although it saddens me to type it, I don’t think her absence will have much of an effect on the LPGA Tour at all. Wie may have been the face of U.S. Women’s golf and one of the biggest draws on the circuit a decade ago, but that ship has sailed and been replaced with a host of younger talent. Had she won more—considerably more—during her prime, it would be a different story. But I don’t buy that anyone still watches or buys tickets to LPGA events solely because Wie is in the field. Her legacy is a little more difficult to define. She may not have won much during her career, but her achievements as a tween transformed her into a household name before she could even drive a car. She was a global superstar before she ever secured full time status in 2009 yet has had a fairly lacklustre career since then due to injuries with the exception of one major victory in 2014. It’s unclear for what she will be remembered in a few decades from now. I certainly won’t be telling my kids or grandkids about her exploits as a professional; those stories, on the women’s side, will be reserved for tales of Annika, Lorena, and Brooke. If I do bring her up at all, it will be as a cautionary tale about what can happen to even the most talented people if they grow up too quickly and enormous expectations are placed upon them.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): That would certainly be a shame. Obviously, she came up with such promise and huge expectations and definitely hasn’t lived up to them, but she has turned her career around in the past few years, winning a major among other titles. She was led in many wrong directions early in her career, which derailed what could have been one of the most successful LPGA careers of her generation. I for one hope she comes back from this injury stronger than ever and at least partially lives up to her potential.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: If this is it, her legacy will be a clinical case of shameless exploitation of a talented teenager by everyone involved — parents, agents, sponsors, the Tour, Hawaii tourism, et al. Or more simply, just another terminal case of Leadbetteritis. Sadly, she seemed happiest as a student at Stanford where for a brief time she was allowed to enjoy part of her youth.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The LPGA has been floundering for years to find an American super-hero. Wie showed lots of promise as a teenager but never materialized as the dominant player everyone expected, so her retirement, if it happens, won’t cause a ripple. Her legacy will be exceptional talent squandered in pursuit of the next endorsement, next celebrity appearance and next re-start. Michelle Wie 8.0 or whatever number she’s at in trying to re-invent herself is maybe realizing that true happiness can only be found beyond golf and away from the vultures that destroyed her career.
In Canada, we’re very influenced by what American TV networks show us. That means a steady diet of PGA Tour products, including PGA Tour Champions and the newly named Korn Ferry Tour, and the LPGA. Given a broader choice would you be inclined to watch more international golf, especially the European Tour and Asian Tour?
Deeks: No, not really. I used to enjoy watching the Euro Tour broadcasts on the Golf Channel a decade ago, with Renton Laidlaw anchoring the broadcasts, but I didn’t miss them when they stopped. I haven’t watched the Champions Tour or the Hogan-Nike-Nationwide-Buy.com-Web.com-KornFerry-am I missing one Tour in years. Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky, but I watch the LPGA because of Brooke, and the PGA for the majors. That’s about it. If the Euro Tour or the Asian Tour came on the menu, I’d still rather clean out the garage.
Loughry: Golf is a global game. I watch the European Tour every Saturday and Sunday morning. It’s hard to watch the other circuits for various reasons, and unless I have a personal interest, I don’t. There just isn’t a compelling reason to tune in and follow them every week as I do the PGA, European and LPGA Tours. I will admit, I did watch some of the US Senior Open last week, but I couldn’t tell you what event is next on the Champions Tour, or where it is.
Schurman: I do watch a certain amount of Asian Tour and European Tour golf, but it is difficult to follow all the players when their ‘stories’ are so far away. The PGA TOUR is in an unusual place now with so few top stars compared to the high level of an ‘average’ tour player. It seems like there are so many who can and do win. I also think the ‘window’ for being at the top is a lot shorter. Players win a bunch of events and a ton of money in a short period and they are at the #1 position briefly. They flirt for a time and then they remain as contenders, but they don’t dominate. I think this is healthy for ticket sales, but hardcore fans like to have one, two or three superstars. The most bizarre happening recently is the name change to Korn Ferry. I thought the ‘corn fairy’ was a demi-god appealed to by farmers.
Kaplan: Isn’t the European Tour on every weekend in the morning? It used to be, at least. Not that it matters. I didn’t watch it then and I wouldn’t watch it now. Nor would I watch the Champions or Korn Ferry Tours. The best players in the world are on the PGA and LPGA Tours, and that’s plenty of golf for me.
Rule: I watch as much European Tour coverage as possible. Their coverage is far superior to US coverage, they don’t worry about 5-minute-long soliloquies, they understand that golf fans like to see golf shots. And they don’t just concentrate on 4 golfers during the broadcast, they show everyone in close to in contention, because let’s face it, there is that much time to show golf shots when you’re not showing so much fluff. I’m excited to watch the Irish Open this weekend from Lahinch, what a treat that will be!
Quinn: Watching golf on TV used to be a vicarious thrill, a rare glimpse inside the ropes. Now, there is more than enough coverage of the various circuits. No mas. The Golf Channel carries a lot of the Euro version, and lots of the LPGA Tour — classic moments last week with threesomes and their caddies outnumbering the greenside galleries by 6 to 0 — so who could ask for more Korn Ferry or extended Q Schools? Hard to imagine that there are enough retirees who can no longer get out and play to satisfy the network ratings. Who else is watching all this stuff?
Mumford: Golf on TV is interesting when you have a rooting interest, when the stakes are particularly high and when the outcome is in doubt. Apart from the majors, few events on any Tour fit that criteria. I caught a bit of the LPGA NW Arkansas event last week. There were no fans. I mean zero. Somehow that makes a difference. I think, why should I watch if the locals won’t even support this thing. I’d probably watch more tournaments from any part of the world if there were more match play or team events. Also, if there was less announcer babble, fewer attempts to turn every story into the greatest comeback from personal tragedy ever or another tribute to the troops. And while we’re at it, let’s kill off the “Playing Through” segments. I don’t know whether to watch the golf, listen to the commercial or what. Golf telecasts have become annoying. If they want me to watch more, they’re going to have to fix that first.
In honour of this week’s Irish Open, what is your favourite Irish course & why? If you haven’t been there (YET), which course intrigues you the most?
Deeks: I haven’t been to the Irish Republic (YET), but I’m dying to go one day. Having played four courses in Northern Ireland now twice, I’d have to pick Royal Portrush as my favourite, even over Royal County Down. I’m really excited to watch the Open Championship in a couple of weeks. I think players and viewers will LOVE Royal Portrush.
Loughry: With a last name like LOUGHRY and my Grandfather from Ireland (and distant family over there), you’d think I would have been to Ireland, but alas I have not, unfortunately. The three I hear most about from what I’d call insiders are: Royal County Down, Ballyliffin, and Lahinch, with honourable mention to Trump International – Ireland. I hope to get over there someday, I hear its as much sought after as a golf destination as Scotland. For me, it would be about the golf, and tracing my family roots. Sounds like I’ll need at least a few weeks. Hey, TJ Rule! Do you need an assistant next year?
Schurman: I have not been to Ireland (yet). When given a choice, my wife and I spent a month in Scotland because it seemed like there were more attractions for her while I was busy playing golf. I can’t choose which I’d like to play as there are so many. I’d love to go!
Kaplan: Haven’t been there before so I’m kind of out of my element here, but my friend went to Ballybunion recently and showed me some photos of his trip and I was pretty jealous.
Rule: Luckily for me, I get the opportunity to head over to the Emerald Isle relatively frequently, and I wish I could go more! It’s my favourite place to play, there are so many great courses, and the hospitality is second to none! I have a tough time choosing my favourite Irish course, but Lahinch would certainly be on the short list. It’s just the right amount of quirky, and tons of fun to play. I’m so looking forward to seeing it on tv this weekend.
Quinn: It’s a long list that includes Connemara, Ardglass, Ballyliffin, Portrush, and a half dozen more, but on top is Royal County Down. There is nothing finer in the game than walking out the back entrance of the more than 130-year-old Slieve Donard hotel and walking along the pristine hedge row to the Tudor-style clubhouse and then to the magnificent links along Dundrum Bay. Tom Morris designed it in 1889 (before he was Old) and with tweaks by Vardon and Colt and Steele, it is my favourite walk in Ireland, or anywhere.
Mumford: Tough question. I could name half a dozen that could be a favourite for one thing or another because Irish golf is as much about the experience as the golf course and that includes the accommodations, the towns, the pubs and the people. For instance, the front nine at Portstewart might be the best nine in the world. Or the European Club the most interesting for the chance to sit and chat with course architect Pat Ruddy afterwards. But for pure golf, it’s a toss-up between Royal County Down and Ballybunion Old.