This just in: Michelle Wie is a professional golfer. There is absolutely no doubt that Michelle is a physical talent the likes of which have never been seen on the LPGA Tour and maybe in all of golf. What has yet to be seen are the consequences for a 16-year-old high school junior who is suddenly being held accountable for the return value of $10 million annually in endorsements and who's being asked to win tournaments after a much hyped amateur career that produced some excellent results but only one victory. I have no doubt that golf, and particularly the LPGA, will benefit from Michelle's presence; she is a bright, beautiful girl who has the potential to continue what Tiger Woods has done already: make golf cool for millions of people, especially kids. But is the "good of the game" good for the girl?
Kids, in my opinion, need to have every chance to simply be kids. No price tag can reflect the value of a childhood, and when that time is gone, you can't get it back. Some of my best childhood memories involve not golf but jumping on the back of my grandfather's Harley-Davidson and riding all over upstate New York and Vermont with him, going to stock car races with my dad and skiing at Gore Mountain with my sister and my best friend--going too fast and hoping that our parents weren't overhead on a chairlift as we went buzzing by. With that $10 million you might be able to buy a garage full of toys and Gore Mountain, but you cannot purchase those memories. Kids need that balance. Playing LPGA, PGA and foreign tours is going to be a tough place to find it.
Which brings us to the topic of Michelle's schedule. Some feel the LPGA should grant her more than the six sponsor's exemptions allowed. I think the LPGA has got it just right, especially since she can also enter the U.S. Women's Open and Weetabix Women's British Open. The limited schedule allows Michelle to pick and choose the events (including those on the PGA Tour and on foreign tours) that blend into her school breaks and maximize her opportunities over the summer recess. Michelle has made an admirable commitment to her education, even aiming to attend Stanford. Additional tournament opportunities would unwisely jeopardize her scholastic success.
I sincerely hope that Michelle becomes the next Annika Sorenstam or Maria Sharapova, not the next Anna Kournikova, and that the LPGA gets swept upward by the rising tide of popularity and exposure brought on by her limitless potential. But let's not forget about the girl. A full bank account cannot take the place of a fulfilling childhood.
NBC and Golf Channel analyst Dottie Pepper won 17 times during a 17-year career on the LPGA tour.
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Oct. 31 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.