Posted: Tuesday August 15, 2006 1:43PM; Updated: Tuesday August 15, 2006 1:43PM
Johnston was looking after his future, and there wasn't a caddie on the LPGA tour who wouldn't have done exactly the same thing. This despite the fact that the Wies had already gone through nine caddies between 2003 and '05, when Michelle was an amateur, and that "every time she misses a green, it's the caddie's fault -- except when Dad's on the bag," as one experienced caddie told me at last year's Women's British.
That hasn't changed. I was outside the scorer's trailer at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's last week when Wie got word that she'd been penalized two strokes for grounding her club in a sand trap during the second round. She had accidentally brushed away a clump of moss that was resting behind her ball during her backswing, a transgression that TV cameras clearly showed.
Johnston had told her she couldn't move the impediment, but Wie's parents, father B.J. and mother Bo, were visibly angry as they pulled their 16-year-old daughter aside to get her version of what had happened.
It was a tense scene. Wie's two bodyguards, dressed in Nike golf shirts, were rude and aggressive while keeping photographers and TV cameramen from filming the meeting -- never mind that it was taking place in a mixed zone where interviews routinely were conducted. Michelle was near tears. She hadn't known the rule. She thought if she just continued her swing, there was no violation.
Johnston should have known then and there that his days were numbered.
Of course, this wasn't the first time Wie had been penalized since turning pro. In her very first tournament as a professional, the Samsung World Championship last October, Wie was disqualified for taking an incorrect drop. The violation wasn't discovered until Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger controversially pointed it out a day after Wie had signed the incorrect scorecard. Johnston was on the bag then, too.
Ever since, Wie has been in contention in many tournaments, but she hasn't won. She has pocketed nearly $720,000 in seven LPGA starts this year, finishing third, fifth and third in the first three majors. But the 6-foot-1 prodigy hasn't been able to close the deal, and the excuses from the Wie camp have been piling up high. Bad luck. Bad bounces. A bee sting. Heat exhaustion. Too much golf. Too little golf. It's always something.
LPGA observers have suspected it was only a matter of time before someone -- besides Michelle -- would be held accountable. It would either be her swing coach, David Leadbetter, or her putting coach, Kelly Leadbetter. Or Johnston.
One thing is certain: The Wies, despite an increasingly unsavory reputation of treating people like, well, jackals, won't have any problem finding a replacement. "The upside is too great," one veteran looper told me when asked if he'd drop his current pro for Wie.
Wanted: caddie. Pay: great. Thick skin a must. Eventual termination: certain. On your way out the door, don't expect a handshake or a pat on the back.