It didn't begin to
feel like a British Open until Sunday's final nine, when the breeze, which had
lain down for the first three days, picked up off the Irish Sea. As the clouds
rolled in and a cool, persistent drizzle began to fall over Royal Lytham and
St. Annes, umbrellas popped open and rain jackets were zippered up by players
and spectators alike-except for one very soggy lady, the eventual winner,
43-year-old Sherri Steinhauer. Ignoring the driving drizzle, the pressure and a
star-studded leader board, she played as if sheathed in a bubble. "I wasn't
cold, the rain seemed to be repelling off my shirt, and I didn't want to change
anything," Steinhauer said. "You don't think golfers are superstitious,
Steinhauer? Because she had won only one tournament since 1999, just six in her
21-year LPGA career, and hadn't won a major since the 1992 du Maurier Classic?
Steinhauer was playing as if a genie had granted her three wishes: play like
Hogan, play like Nicklaus, play like Woods. The Madison, Wis., native, who also
won the Women's British Open in 1998 and '99, before it was designated a major
championship, was striping her drives down the center of Lytham's undulating
fairways. While the rest of the field was peppering approach shots into the
course's deviously positioned bunkers-200 of them were lurking out
there-Steinhauer was hitting 15 of 18 greens. Starting the final round with a
three-shot lead over Sophie Gustafson, Juli Inkster, Lorena Ochoa and Karen
Stupples, Steinhauer coolly reeled off 16 pars and a birdie over the first 17
holes. Her lone mistake came after she had driven yet again down the middle of
the fairway at the 18th, at which time her caddie, Bob Kendall, told her she
had a four-shot lead. "I kind of went limp at that point," Steinhauer
said. "I was in shock."
Only then did she
find a bunker, hitting her final approach into the sand to the right of the
green, leading to her first bogey in 48 holes. It was the first time she had
been bunkered since Thursday. Steinhauer's seven-under 281 (73-70-66-72) was
three shots better than the scores of Gustafson and Cristie Kerr.
writer Bernard Darwin once called Royal Lytham and St. Annes, with its
hogbacked greens and hidden bunkers, "a beast ... but a just beast."
Just? Just nasty, maybe. Even without wind, this storied course on England's
western shore humbled many of the best players in the world. Karrie Webb, a
three-time winner in 2006, shot 76-82 in benign conditions to miss the cut by
seven shots. Top-ranked Annika Sorenstam ballooned to a 44 on her final nine to
end up 31st, her worst finish in a major since 2001.
Even the wonder
girl, 16-year-old Michelle Wie, who dominated the headlines in the British
press earlier in the week, fell victim to Lytham's cunning, making an 8 on the
par-5 15th on Sunday. She was penalized two strokes on Friday for moving an
impediment-a clump of moss-in the sand during her backswing, a ruling that
nearly brought her to tears. For the week the long-hitting Wie played the four
reachable par-5s in one over, proving once again that Royal Lytham, whose past
winners include Bobby Jones, Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros, is not a course
that can be overpowered. After opening the tournament with three straight
bogeys, Wie was never a factor, finishing 26th.
So the book can be
closed on Wie's major championship season, which, like her 2005 campaign, ended
without a win. Both years are remarkably similar, leading to the question: Is
the young phenom improving or stuck on some sort of plateau? In 2005 she
finished 14th, second, 23rd and tied for third in the majors. In '06 she tied
for third, tied for fifth, tied for third and was 26th. In 2005 she tied for
second in two other LPGA events. In '06 she tied for second in one. Playing
against the men, Wie missed the cut at the Sony Open in her home state of
Hawaii in 2005 and '06. At the John Deere Classic she missed the cut in 2005
and this year withdrew after 27 holes from heat exhaustion.
Wie hits the ball
no farther off the tee than she did as a 15-year-old. Her putting hasn't
measurably improved. Nor has her short game, which remains average for a pro.
Still, Wie trumpets her dream of competing against men and qualifying for a
Masters or a U.S. Open even as she wins a women's major in her spare time, all
the while reaping the financial rewards of marketing herself based on that
Sweet dream, that.
Wie has made an estimated $15 million from her various ( Nike, Omega, Sony)
sponsorships since turning pro last August and commands a reported $1.5 million
in appearance fees to play in tournaments such as the Casio World Open in
Japan, which is one reason she's in no rush to apply for membership to the LPGA
tour. As a nonmember Wie is allowed to play in six LPGA tournaments a year on
sponsors' invitations, plus the U.S. and British Opens. Were she to apply for
and be granted membership-and the LPGA would fall all over itself to waive the
age restriction (members must be 18)-she could play only twice a year in events
that conflicted with the LPGA schedule. Furthermore, a rule the LPGA added in
2003 states that members must play in every LPGA tournament at least once every
four years. The result would be fewer starts against the men, less income from
appearance fees and a general loss of mystique.
What makes Wie
unique is not that she's the world's best woman golfer-she isn't-it's that
she's young, tall, attractive and the only woman outside of Danica Patrick who
wants to play against the guys. It matters not a whit that she loses, which
leaves the LPGA in the awkward position of needing Wie more than Wie needs the
LPGA. "Every tournament, every week we would love to have Michelle
Wie," says LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens. "If somebody put a
proposal on the table to change some of our restrictions, we'd consider it. But
we're a membership organization, and no personality is bigger than the
A friend close to
the Wies says there's little chance that Wie will join the tour next year.
"She's an international golfer," the friend says. "She commands the
second- or third-highest appearance fees in the sport, behind Tiger and maybe
Phil. She'd be giving up a lot. Michelle thinks playing against men improves