Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Why are middle-age men attacking a teen-age girl?

I have been trying to figure out why so many male sportswriters take such delight in putting down Michelle Wie.

I don't get the venom of their criticism. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.

To many of them, Wie's crime is her audacity to play in three PGA men's tournaments a year. In each she gets a sponsor's exemption. Some men dislike that, because they say it takes away a spot from another golfer. It should be noted it would be a golfer who won't sell any tickets, unlike Wie. And isn't the reason corporations sponsor sporting events is to sell products or build name recognition? Now Wie has never made a PGA cut, but each time she misses, there is a story about it in every daily newspaper. Would there be a story in there if the man she took a spot from missed the cut instead? No, hence the sponsor's exemption.

One favorite rant against Wie is that she has never won a tournament on the LPGA tournament, so shouldn't she learn to win against "her own kind," rather then try to compete against the men? High profile writers Sports Illustrated's Gary Van Sickle and ESPN/Washington Post's Michael Wilbon have both complained about Wie's hype when she hasn't won anything. Another writer wrote a story under the headline "Michelle Wie ready to extend winless streak."

Wie is 16 years old. Can anyone tell me about another 16-year-old of any sex who has won a pro golf tournament? The truth is Wie isn't even old enough join the LPGA full-time for two more years. Until then, she can only play in six LPGA events a year plus non-sanctioned LPGA tournaments. In the six women's events she has played this season, she has finished in the top 10 five times. She has played in 11 women's majors and finished in the top five of those majors seven times including four of the last five. She has finished outside of the top 15 just twice in a major.

That would be a career year for any woman golfer and the 16-year-old isn't even on the tour full-time. So she hasn't won a tournament yet, she doesn't even have a driver's license. All in due time.

On one hand, I understand that ESPN has become the bastion of talking heads. They have so many sportswriter driven talk shows that they have to find things to talk about. These writers have to talk about so many different subjects, often they just get the Cliff Notes version from their production assistants and a 10-second clip from Sportscenter. So they just pick a side and rant away. So you have blowhards blowing away. I get that but that is one side of the Wie bashing. What about the no-name daily beat writer and columnist, who aren't on TV?

Here is one subtle example from a news story written this week by Reid Hanley from the Chicago Tribune, "It was a rookie mistake, something she probably should have learned to avert in junior golf."

That was Hanley's lead. Now I don't read Hanley's stuff on a regular basis, but I doubt he would write such a sentence if he was talking about a bad day for any male golfer. Lots of golfers struggle on the PGA Tour — it barely ever gets a mention, but when you are a 16-year-old girl playing on a sponsor's exemption — it is news and rightly so. And hey, it is the big leagues so she is fair game and Hanley can write what he wants. But I don't understand the venom and cynicism of him and his colleagues.

Other writers and bloggers had a field day with Wie's withdrawal from the John Deere Classic with heat exhaustion over the weekend. Grown, middle - age men saying how she is a quitter for stopping after nine holes on Friday. They say it is another example of why she shouldn't be playing with men. Funny how I saw no mention anywhere of the four men who also withdrew from the tournament after it started. Are they less manly? I can't believe how she gutted it out for the last few holes she did. It was obvious she was in pain.

Wie has now played in six PGA tournaments and never made a cut. By contrast, Tiger Woods played his first PGA tournament at age 17. He missed the cut in his first seven tries. It took him 18 attempts before he won a men's tournament, which he did at age 21. I don't gamble much but it would seem a safe bet that by age 21. Wie will have several LPGA tournament wins (not to mention majors under her belt.) I would also venture making the cut at a PGA event and possibly even contending in an event seems sure to happen.

Wie's playing partners perceived negative quotes got a lot of play this weekend. Lost was what second round leader Joe Ogilvie said.

"She's extremely good, and she's going to be good for a long time," Ogilvie said. "She's better than Tiger was at 16. I played with Tiger, and Tiger wasn't this good. If someone has a problem with Michelle Wie getting a sponsor's exemption, they don't understand what we're about. Our job is to entertain. That's why we're out here. We're playing golf, but at the same time, it's entertainment. Sports is to entertain the public. We're not curing cancer; we're just putting the ball in the hole."

What Wie has already accomplished without winning a tournament is amazing. Maybe it is because I cover 16-year-olds on a daily basis and the sportswriters turned television talking heads don't. Think of the 16-year olds you know, then put them on the world stage against the best golfers in the world. She is in contention in every women's event she plays and just the fact at her age, she is hitting from the same tees with the best men in the world is incredible in and of itself.

When did not winning professional golf tournaments before graduating from high school become failure? Let the kid play and just enjoy watching the development of an incredible athlete.