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Friday, Dec. 1, 2006

SPORTS SCOPE

Time for Wie to take a break from playing against men


I was afraid this was going to happen.

Jack Gallagher

Last week's calamitous outing by American teenage golf prodigy Michelle Wie, at the Casio World Open in Kochi, has reignited the issue of parents pushing their children -- often prematurely -- into the sporting spotlight.

After carding rounds of 81 and 80 in the JPGA men's tournament, Wie missed the cut and found herself in next-to-last place, some 27 shots behind the leader.

In the 36 holes she played, Wie did not have a single birdie, while making 15 bogeys and one double bogey.

The showing had people once again scratching their heads and wondering if she would be better off trying to rack up some victories on the LPGA Tour before taking on the men again.

Though it is admirable that the 17-year-old Wie, who nearly everyone agrees is both beautiful and powerful, keeps on trying, her recent results while playing against men show a continuing trend of diminishing returns.

Since shooting a 68 in the second round of the Sony Open at age 14, back in 2004, and missing the cut at the PGA event by one stroke, the 182-cm Wie has tried 12 times to reach the weekend while playing against the guys, but with the exception of a single tournament in South Korea earlier this year, has failed.

Wie, who finished last in the previous two men's tournaments she played in prior to the Casio World, is winless in 33 career LPGA events.

What concerns me most is the way she keeps insisting after each of these short-circuited outings against the men that she enjoyed herself and intends to forge on.

It isn't so much what she is saying, but how. It almost seems like she has been programmed to answer questions in a certain way.

Over the years we have seen numerous instances of sports parents riding their kids too hard.

In some cases, the motive is financial. In others, it is the adults trying to relive their lives through their children.

Sometimes it is both.

An only child, Wie has been a prodigy almost from the day she picked up a club at the age of 4.

It would seem to me that any levelheaded person, who has seen what has happened to Wie in recent events against male competition, would agree that there should be some serious soul searching done by her parents and handlers.

She is represented by the famed William Morris Agency, the agent for countless motion picture stars over the years, so she clearly has first-class support.

But at the end of the day, money and fame have to be put aside in the best interests of this young lady.

While I would like to believe the majority of people -- male and female -- want to see her succeed, the longer this futility continues, the less sympathetic folks will become.

I will admit that when she first started playing against the men, I, like many others, was fascinated by her ability.

"What a story," I remember thinking.

But now the novelty has worn off and the entire project is becoming passe.

I am happy that Wie has been able to secure her future financially, but what I worry about is her social growth.

Flying all over the world and getting to see so many places is great, but she is also missing out on the most important part of her formative years.

Say what you want about Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena, but he went out of his way to protect his girls when they were young, limiting their travel and number of tournaments they played in. He did his best to keep them grounded.

As the father of a 4-year-old girl, I could see how people might be easily be caught up by people constantly telling you how great your child is.

But at some point, as parents, you have to take a hard look in the mirror and say, "Where are we going with this? And why?"

I am concerned that Wie is going to start getting frustrated and down on herself, suffer a loss of confidence, and find it hard to recover from -- even against female competition.

We witnessed this very scenario with tennis player Jennifer Capriati, who was pushed too hard by her overbearing father, and came unwound.

Though she was able to make a comeback years later, Capriati went through some very difficult times along the way.

Wie has been built up like a goddess, but the grand experiment is failing, and her parents must take responsibility for this.

More importantly, they should be concerned about their daughter's long-term mental health.

To ignore it would be negligent.



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