Wie’s comeback ends in chaos

Controversy, never a stranger to the career of Michelle Wie, turned into downright calamity this week amid suggestions that the game’s most famous prodigy feigned an injury during an LPGA Tour event to avoid falling victim to the rule under which players who shoot a round of 88 or worse are banned from the women’s tour for the rest of the season.

The teenager’s troubles were compounded when it emerged that her father, BJ Wie, was spoken to by officials over suggestions that he had broken a rule prohibiting competitors from receiving advice from anyone other than their caddie or playing partners during a round.

Wie, who was making her return to tournament play at the LPGA Ginn Tribute event in South Carolina after a four-month absence due to a wrist injury, was 14 over par with two holes to play when she withdrew, citing her injured wrist.

Two more bogeys and she would have fallen foul of Rule 88, one of the tour’s more obscure stipulations. ”Shooting 88 is not what I think about. That’s not what I do,” she said when asked if the possibility of being banned for the season had influenced her decision to withdraw.

But witnesses said that as the teenager’s score headed into double-figures over par her parents became embroiled in lengthy conversations with her agent, Greg Nared, who, in turn, spoke to an LPGA rules official.

After Wie bogeyed the 7th hole — her 16th — she and Nared spoke. Shortly afterwards she told her playing partners ”We’re not going to play any more”, and was driven back to the clubhouse.

Initially, no explanation was given but the player emerged from a meeting with her parents and agent and said her wrist had become inflamed. ”It felt good when I was practising but I tweaked it in the middle of the round,” she said.

This explanation was good enough for the LPGA officials, who are only too aware of Wie’s marketing value to their tour, but it was greeted with much scepticism by her fellow competitors, among them her playing partner, Alena Sharp.

”She wasn’t holding her wrist,” she said afterwards. ”If she was holding her wrist, why wait until the last two holes [to withdraw]?”

Added to the scepticism was anger over an incident on the 15th, when Wie was searching for her ball in the trees after an errant tee shot. As she did so, witnesses said they heard her father say: ”What about the tee?”

Seconds later his daughter walked back to the tee and hit another shot.

Janice Moodie, Wie’s other playing partner, warned him that the rules of golf prohibit competitors from receiving outside advice. Any breach of the rule carries a two-shot penalty.

In a conversation with a tournament official later Wie Snr claimed he had said, ”What are the options?” but he was warned about speaking to his daughter when she was playing — and told ”When in doubt, don’t ”.

Again, her playing partner, Sharp, was unhappy.

”He was too close. He is always so close to her. You’re going to get your daughter in trouble,” she said.

This is not the first time Wie has been involved in a rules argument. She was disqualified from her first professional event, the 2005 Samsung World Championship, for taking an incorrect drop and picked up a two-shot penalty during last year’s Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham for an infringement in a bunker.

Since then Wie’s career has spiralled downwards. She played in two men’s events at the tail end of last season and finished last in both.

In January, her annual appearance at the men’s Sony Open in her home state of Hawaii ended with a missed cut as she finished 14 over par for two rounds. She has fared better in the women’s game but not by much, failing to break par for 18 holes since last summer.

The contrast between Wie’s current troubles and her emergence in the game could hardly be greater. She was heralded as the next Tiger Woods, if not in a purely golfing sense then certainly in marketing terms.

When she turned professional she reportedly received sponsorship deals worth more than $10-million from two of the world’s biggest multinational companies, Nike and Sony.

It is far too early to write off that money as a bad investment but it is not too early to be worried about the well-being of a 17-year-old of whom so much is expected. ”I felt kind of bad for her,” Sharp said after her tumultuous day on the course with Wie. ”She didn’t seem happy.” — Â

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