Michelle Wie's good for the game

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Michelle Wie is out there pounding it long and straight with the best women golfers in the world this weekend in her first tournament as a professional.

As if she needed to prove she belongs right away, Wie rattled off a seven-under-par round of 65 to sit a shot off the lead and will play in the final pairing today with leader Grace Park.

For most young women just a few days past their 16th birthdays, that would be a dream beyond their wildest imaginings. But Wie isn't most people. She has made it clear that isn't enough for her and that desire is apparently too much for a lot of people.

It isn't going to be enough for Wie to be the best female player in the world. She wants more. She is determined to continually test herself against the best male players. Whether she gets it all is a moot point. Just the fact that she is ready to accept that daunting challenge has a lot of people bent out of shape.

So, why are so many so nervous about Wie's intention to break down traditional gender-based barriers?

"I don't think they've seen anybody like me before," she says.

As Reggie Jackson once said, "it ain't bragging if you can do it." That doesn't stop some of her female peers from having their noses out of joint.

"She's going to make something like $10 million? For what? For winning one tournament?" sniped Morgan Pressel, one year older than Wie and fresh off the United States Amateur championship.

It's true that Wie hasn't won a tournament since she captured the U.S. Public Links Championship when she was 13. But this season alone, at 15, she had three second-place LPGA finishes and finished third at the British Women's Open. In seven tournaments, if she had been able to collect a cheque, she would have won $640,870, and would have placed her 13th on the LPGA money list. As I recall, Wayne Gretzky never won a Memorial Cup. Do you think he has regrets?

More than that, she came very close to making the cut at the PGA Tour John Deere Classic and made it all the way to the quarter-finals of the United States men's public links championship before losing to the eventual champion, Clay Ogden. Had she won that event, she would have earned a berth in the 2006 Masters.

That she intends to compete regularly against the best male players rubs some the wrong way, the same way, one imagines, that people resented the first women doctors or pilots or politicians. Good lord, it wasn't until well into the 20th century that women had the vote in North America.

She's fully prepared to take on the role of golfing pioneer.

"I like to be the first to do anything," she says. "I like to be the best."

Being first has its drawbacks. While the vast majority of golf fans will be rooting for her to succeed, she will have to deal with resentment and jealousy, especially when she challenges the men.

This is not some hothouse, temperamental young tennis player. This is a young woman with her head screwed on straight. People wail about how she's missing her teenage years. She's missing nothing. Her best pals are still the kids she hangs out with at school and her idea of a big night out is a trip to the mall for ice-cream with her friends.

She will eventually win over her competitors as well, once they recognize that she is their meal ticket the same way Tiger Woods drives the economics of men's golf.

Wie is a magnet for attention. The John Deere tournament's gross receipts were up 40% and the TV ratings were up 54% with her in the field this year. While she won't be a full-fledged LPGA member until she turns 18, you can bet that crowds and TV audiences will respond in kind wherever she appears.

In one aspect, Pressel's snippy comment is right: sometime soon, Wie needs to win. Anyone who has seen her play would have to be a dunce to think that, had she competed against kids her own age, she would have been wiping the floor with them.

Instead, she chose to take on the best in the world and hasn't yet broken through.

She will win soon enough. Who knows? It could happen tomorrow. One thing is sure: when it does happen, there will be a big crowd to see it. And, like it or not, that's good for golf.


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